The personal conduct policy doesn’t specifically state that the Commissioner will retain final say over all discipline imposed by the policy. But the Commissioner will indeed retain that authority.
“Appeals of any disciplinary decision will be processed pursuant to Article 46 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement for players or pursuant to the applicable league procedures for non-players,” the new policy states. “The Commissioner may name a panel that consists of independent experts to recommend a decision on the appeal.”
He may, but that doesn’t mean he will. As NFL general counsel Jeff Pash has confirmed on a media conference call regarding the new policy, the appeal process will not change. Under the old policy, Article 46 applied. Under the new policy, Article 46 applies.
And that represents the heart of the conflict between the NFL and the NFLPA on this point. The union wants an independent arbitrator to determine the appeal in all cases. The NFL has refused to give up that power as a general matter.
That said, the new policy requires the initial decision to be made not by the Commissioner, but by “a disciplinary officer,” who will be “a member of the league office staff who will be a highly-qualified individual with a criminal justice background.” The Commissioner will hire that person and, on a case-by-case basis, the Commissioner will oversee that person’s work.
So while the form will be different, the result ultimately won’t be the same. In the end, the Commissioner will retain full and ultimate power over the disciplinary process.
By removing the Commissioner from the initial decision-making process, it’s now less likely that the Commissioner will choose to delegate the appeal to an outside person, like he did in the Ray Rice case. The Commissioner’s involvement as a witness to things Rice said in the disciplinary process made him a witness in the appeal of Rice’s indefinite suspension. The new process protects the Commissioner against being a witness.