At his annual pre-Super Bowl press conference, Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked a question about the extent of his power. Surprisingly, Goodell claimed that he has less power than the rulebook seems to give him.
Goodell quoted verbatim a portion of Rule 17, Section 2, Article 2 in support of the contention that he has no authority to order a game to be replayed from a certain point or to alter the outcome of a game if an officiating error would be sufficiently egregious to justify it.
“The Commissioner will not apply authority in cases of complaints by clubs concerning judgmental errors or routine errors of omission by game officials,” Goodell said.
To best understand the rule, it’s important to consider the entire rule. Titled “NO CLUB PROTESTS,” Article 2 states as follows: “The authority and measures provided for in this entire Section 2 do not constitute a protest machinery for NFL clubs to avail themselves of in the event a dispute arises over the result of a game. The investigation called for in this Section 2 will be conducted solely on the Commissioner’s initiative to review an act or occurrence that the Commissioner deems so extraordinary or unfair that the result of the game in question would be inequitable to one of the participating teams. The Commissioner will not apply authority in cases of complaints by clubs concerning judgmental errors or routine errors of omission by game officials. Games involving such complaints will continue to stand as completed.”
Goodell took the language he quoted out of its broader context. As written, the rule expressly slams the door on the ability of teams to file protests regarding outcomes influenced by judgment calls. The Commissioner retains the power, as vested in him by Article 1 and Article 3, to take action in the event of extraordinary unfair outcomes, whether or not the result of an extraordinarily unfair exercise of judgment. Article 2 is aimed not at limiting the Commissioner’s power per se, but at keeping the teams from using Rule 17 as a device for protesting games.
To avoid this interpretation (possibly in light of pending litigation premised on it), Goodell has voluntarily and willfully restricted his authority based on the answer he provided on Wednesday. Unless and until, of course, he decides to exercise his power in the way that Rule 17 seems to grant it.