System arbitrator Stephen Burbank has ruled that Roger Goodell and the league can impose penalties in the Saints' pay-for-performance scandal.
The union contended that Burbank and not Goodell should be the one to levy discipline since players were apparently receiving extra benefits from payouts that the NFL says were a byproduct of the "bounty" program and thus subverting the salary cap. Burbank normally rules over all salary cap disputes. He apparently didn't agree with the union's argument and upheld Goodell's ability to levy punishment.
The NFLPA contended the matter should be dealt with by the System Administrator of the collective bargaining agreement, in this case Burbank, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. The union believes the so-called bounty system the league says Saints defenders participated in from 2009 to 2011 falls outside the "conduct detrimental to the game" clause Roger Goodell employed in his decision.
Under Goodell's reading, the commissioner is the sole judge and jury; the union's position is it should be Burbank.
Well, so much for that little battle. There was probably always very little hope this would go the players' way, so no surprise here. More after the jump.
You can read Burbank's ruling in its entirety here.
Here is the league's comment on the ruling:
"System Arbitrator Stephen Burbank upheld the commissioner's authority under the Collective Bargaining Agreement to impose "conduct detrimental" discipline on players who provided or offered to provide financial incentives to injure opponents. He also upheld the commissioner's authority to impose such discipline against players who obstructed a league investigation. The System Arbitrator thus confirmed the commissioner's authority to suspend Mr. Fujita, Mr. Smith and Mr. Vilma. He invited the commissioner to clarify the precise basis for his discipline of Mr. Hargrove who, among other things, was found to have lied to the league's investigators and obstructed their investigation."
Burbank has retained jurisdiction in regards to Anthony Hargrove.
UPDATE 10:12 a.m. ET: Technically, Burbank has retained jurisdiction over Hargrove’s argument, explaining that the letter from Goodell explaining Hargrove’s suspension doesn’t specify the nature of the rules he violated. In so doing, Burbank also gives the NFL a fairly clear road map for avoiding problems, and the league already has seized on that language by explaining in a press release that Hargrove was suspended for lying to investigators and obstructing the NFL’s investigation.
A separate grievance filed before arbitrator Shyam Das on May 16th is is still pending.
Still pending is a separate grievance filed before arbitrator Shyam Das, who has been asked to decide whether the new CBA prevents Goodell from imposing any discipline on players for conduct occurring before it was signed, and also whether the appeals should be handled by Ted Cottrell or Art Shell, who have been jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFLPA to review discipline imposed by Goodell for on-field misconduct.
If the union also loses that one, there's probably little hope that the league will finally reveal the "evidence" they claim to have in this matter.
UPDATE: The union plans to appeal Burbank's ruling. They released this statement:
"The NFL Players Association will appeal today's decision to the Appeals Panel provided by the CBA for the review of all system arbitrator decisions.
"Any pay-to-injure program runs counter to the health and safety principles we stand for as players. However, none of the players punished in this case have seen a shred of evidence justifying the NFL's punishment.
"In the opinion, system arbitrator Stephen Burbank wrote, '[I]t is important to emphasize - with respect to all of the Players - that nothing in this opinion is intended to convey a view about the underlying facts or the appropriateness of the discipline imposed.'
"The union believes that the players are entitled to neutral arbitration of these issues under the CBA and will continue to fight for that principle and to protect the fair due process rights of all players."