As characterized in an internal NFL memo, Sunday’s arbitration ruling in the NFL Players Association’s challenge to the new Personal Conduct Policy permits the league to use the Commissioner’s exempt list as a device for putting players on paid leave pending the resolution of their disciplinary cases. However, there’s another key aspect of the ruling not mentioned in the memo from NFL general counsel Jeff Pash to all teams.
A player placed on the Commissioner’s exempt list has the same appeal rights that the player would have if suspended without pay.
“The player, or the NFLPA with the player’s approval, may within three days following written notification [of placement on the Commissioner’s exempt list] appeal in writing to the Commissioner,” arbitrator Jonathan Marks explained in his ruling. “Either the Commissioner or his designee, appointed after consultation with the Executive Director of the NFLPA, will serve as hearing officer. At the hearing, the player may be accompanied by counsel and both the NFLPA and the NFL may be present and present evidence.”
Marks did not address whether the Commissioner is required to stay the placement of the player on the Commissioner’s exempt list until the hearing is resolved. This means that the issue will likely be resolved the first time the device is used.
If the Commissioner declines to stay the implementation of the placement of the player on the Commissioner’s exempt list until the hearing has been held, an arbitration will be conducted on an expedited basis. Possibly, the union will take the issue to court for a ruling that, until the hearing has been resolved, the player can’t be kept from playing, even with pay.
So it’s not a slam-dunk outcome for the NFL. The decision to use the Commissioner’s exempt list, which previously had provided the player with no recourse, now has a caveat. A full-blown hearing must be held, and the outcome of that hearing will be subject to a potential challenge in court.