In the immediate aftermath of the NFL’s latest and most public embarrassment in court, things seemed different. Owners began speaking out for the first time about the importance of changing the rules to reduce the Commissioner’s role in the process, and it seemed to be not a matter of “if” but “when” the ultimate authority over the Personal Conduct Policy and conduct detrimental to the game would be referred to a neutral arbitrator.
It still may be a matter of “when,” but it’s now clear that the “when” will arrive “not anytime soon” and only after the NFL Players Association makes a major concession in exchange for the shift.
Steelers owner Art Rooney recently applied an extended timetable to the process.
“Look, I think more than likely we’re not talking months here,” Rooney told Tom Pelissero of USA Today. “We’re most likely talking years.”
From a collective bargaining standpoint, it’s the smart play. If the NFL comes off as desperate to alter the current system, it will be difficult if not impossible for the league to secure a concession for giving the union something it has wanted for a while. From a legal standpoint, it’s also the smart play, because the league’s position in the Tom Brady case could still be vindicated on appeal.
“I don’t sense that there’s an urgency to it, that we feel like – particularly in reaction to Judge Berman’s decision – that’s something we’ve got to address immediately,” Rooney said. “We’re appealing that decision, we feel confident about the appeal and so that’s going to be another process that takes a considerable amount of time to be resolved.”
From a P.R. standpoint, that may not be the best move, especially if the league office intends to continue to wield its power in a way that compels the NFLPA to challenge the NFL’s decisions in court, and that results in the players winning more and more and more court cases.
As a practical matter, the NFL’s ultimate power over players on matters of personal conduct and conduct detrimental to the interests of the league impacts a small handful of players per year. And yet in that small handful of cases, the league office keeps stepping on rakes. From a big-picture, public-confidence standpoint, the smartest play would be to press pause on the determination to always drive hard bargains and instead to find a graceful way out of this mess.
The players, for example, would be willing to swap final say for the power to suspend players who obstruct investigations. That should be enough to get this done now, and it would go along way toward giving the NFL’s naysayers one less thing to stop saying nay about.
And yet the NFL keeps saying nay to what would be, and should be, an easy solution to one of its biggest problems.