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SBD/December 13, 2012/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday said that he “doesn't owe the four previously suspended players the league connected to the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal an apology,” according to Larry Holder of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. Goodell “stood firm about his feelings that the Saints conducted a pay-to-injure scheme.” He said former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue in his decision "said there's no one here who should feel good about their role in this with respect to the Saints." Goodell: "To have a bounty program where you're targeting players for injury, it's completely unacceptable in the NFL, it's clear that occurred for three years despite all of the denials." He added that he and Tagliabue “agree that clearly the league views the actions” of Saints LB Jonathan Vilma, DE Will Smith and free agent Anthony Hargrove as “conduct detrimental.” He said that where the two disagree “was on the discipline aspect.” Goodell said that it “doesn't usurp his power as commissioner with Tagliabue wiping the suspensions away” (NOLA.com, 12/12). Meanwhile, Goodell said that his office has communicated with suspended Saints coach Sean Payton "about his eventual reinstatement.” ESPN.com’s Ed Werder noted Goodell “did not eliminate the possibility of Payton rejoining the franchise before the Super Bowl.” A source said that Payton would “like an adjustment on the suspension so it would end at the conclusion of the regular season as opposed to after the Super Bowl.” Goodell yesterday said that he and Payton “briefly have discussed the reinstatement process they will follow and that more focused conversations are planned after the upcoming holidays” (ESPN.com, 12/12).
DUE PROCESS: In New Orleans, Terrance Harris noted Saints QB Drew Brees “took dead aim" at Goodell and the NFL front office as he "leveled harsh criticism for how the case was mishandled from start to finish, saying there was much more interest in achieving an outcome than making certain the process was fair and correct.” Brees said that vacating the suspensions of the players “should be just the beginning of the NFL correcting a wrong.” Brees: "What I would like to see is the level of accountability on the part of the NFL and Commissioner Goodell in regards to the mishandling of this entire situation. We as players hold ourselves to very strict code of conduct on and off the field. We have to be accountable to that as it should be. I feel they should be held to the same standards.” He added that Goodell and the league office “have ‘very little to no credibility’ with the players for the way it botched the nine-month investigation.” Brees: "We all had a good feeling just because a lot of us know the truth in the matter and know just how unfair this process has been the entire time, just hoping and praying that Tagliabue would see it as such." Meanwhile, Vilma and Smith “expressed relief Wednesday that they have been vindicated with the overturning of the suspensions, but they were disappointed they were not completely exonerated.” Tagliabue in his decision reiterated that Vilma was “the ring leader.” Harris noted the idea that he is “still painted in such a way galls Vilma and is a large part of the reason he is going forward with a defamation lawsuit against Goodell” (NOLA.com, 12/12).
COURT REPORT: The TIMES-PICAYUNE's Holder in a separate piece reported Vilma in a filing in U.S. District Court yesterday indicated that he “does not intend to challenge” Tagliabue's decision to vacate his suspension. Holder in a separate piece reported Smith, Hargrove and Browns LB Scott Fujita “also filed in court that they won't challenge Tagliabue's decision” (NOLA.com, 12/12). Vilma indicated that he will pursue his defamation lawsuit against Goodell, and ESPN's Dan Le Batard said the move is not “petty” but is “vigilant and principled." Le Batard: "It’s another example why Roger Goodell picked the wrong guy to mess with.” Tagliabue's ruling "isn’t an ending for Vilma, it’s a starting point on getting money from the league in a defamation suit" ("Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable," ESPN2, 12/12).
PAUL'S PATH: In N.Y., Judy Battista writes the NFL, like “virtually everyone else, was surprised by Tagliabue’s decision.” It had “never imagined that he could at once agree that Jonathan Vilma had put a bounty on [former Vikings QB Brett] Favre, and then rule that he should not be disciplined, not even fined.” But even including that “seeming contradiction, Tagliabue succeeded where Goodell’s blast-furnace discipline had failed: he held a full hearing, in which the accused players … as well as coaches and officials, were allowed to see evidence and question their accusers.” Tagliabue also created a "nuanced decision that offered a chance for everyone to claim at least a portion of victory, while also tweaking the behavior of some (Goodell) and hammering others, most glaringly Saints coaches and other officials.” The players with no discipline to contest will “not seek intervention by a federal judge.” If that had happened, the judge “might have tried to limit the power of the commissioner’s office, a result the league wanted to avoid.” For as much as Tagliabue’s decision “was a very public reproach of Goodell’s handling of the case, that is a long-term win for the league” (N.Y. TIMES, 12/13).
ROGER THAT: ESPN DALLAS’ Jean-Jacques Taylor wrote under the header, “Roger Goodell’s Authority Takes A Hit.” Taylor wrote: “No longer is Goodell alpha and omega when it comes to doling out punishment. These days, the sun no longer rises and sets on his judgments.” If players can “get Goodell to appoint a hearing office to handle an appeal -- even if they must use public pressure to do so -- then they have a good chance to get his decision overruled.” Whether Goodell “chooses to acknowledge or admit he has lost some authority is irrelevant.” Taylor: “All we have to do is look at what happened in the much-publicized Saints bounty case” (ESPNDALLAS.com, 12/12).
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday said that the league has “discussed expanding the current 12-team playoff format to possibly as much as an NHL-like 16-team field,” according to Ralph Vacchiano of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. Goodell said that the "talks were ‘teed up’ by owners on Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings in Dallas and that the NFL’s competition committee will investigate expanding the field to 14 or 16 teams.” Goodell: “We will probably be looking at it with the committee over the next several months.” Vacchiano notes in a league “driven by parity, the implications could be huge.” At the “very least, 8-8 teams in the postseason would be the norm.” Last season, 8-8 teams “would’ve made the playoff fields in both conferences.” The competition committee, which “will apparently discuss the proposal at its next meeting, has pondered the idea of expanding the playoffs in the past.” Yet despite the “obvious added revenue it would create, the idea has never been taken to a full vote of NFL owners” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/13). ESPN's John Clayton reported the idea is to "expand the playoffs to 14-16 teams." If Goodell can "talk the players into an 18-game regular-season schedule, it would happen automatically." More than half the teams in both the NBA and NHL qualify for the postseason, and "eventually that will happen in the NFL." Next season is possible, but '14 is "more likely” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 12/12). YAHOO SPORTS’ Brian McIntyre wrote the current format “appears to be perfect, both in terms of the number of games in January and ensuring that nearly all of the 256-game regular season remains important.” Any expansion of the postseason would “likely involve the elimination of bye weeks in the post-season, requiring the top two teams in each conference to play in the Wild Card round” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/12).
WHY RUIN A GOOD THING? NBC Sports Network’s Shaun King said the “only reason to expand is if you’re doing it because of the money.” He noted the NFL is not like college football, where fans almost every year feel there are "some teams that were worthy of being in a championship game … that don’t make it." King: "When’s the last time you finished the NFL season and felt like there was a team that didn’t make the playoffs that should be there?” NBC Sports Network’s Pete Najarian said, “Do not reward mediocrity. … This is an absolute moneygrab. This is something the NFL is above” (“NBC Sports Talk,” NBC Sports Network, 12/12). NFL Network’s Mark Kriegel said, “It’s not a good thing at all. I’m against anything that contributes to the cause of mediocrity, and this certainly will. This is supposed to be a meritocracy.” But NFL Network’s Frank Wyche supports an expanded postseason, saying, "I’m going against the contrary belief that we’re going to water things down" (“NFL AM,” NFL Network, 12/13).
The expanded slate of Thursday night NFL games this season has been “less than stellar," but "like it or not ... Thursday games aren’t going anywhere,” according to a sports section cover story by Mike Garafolo of USA TODAY. The matchups have generated "low ratings, sloppy football, uncompetitive games, struggling road teams and rosters depleted by injuries on short weeks" despite efforts by the NFL to "schedule more geographically friendly meetings and divisional matchups.” Ravens S Ed Reed said, “If they are really concerned about the violence and injuries and players getting hurt, answer this question for me, and I’m going to leave y’all with this: Why is there Thursday night football?” Goodell said, "We don't have any information that playing on Thursdays decreases the safety of our players. I think you start with the facts, and the facts are that's not a risk to our players." Garafolo reports players, even some “who dislike playing on a short week, appreciate the chance to play on a national stage.” Still, the questions that arise are “about health concerns as well as the quality of football.” Garafolo notes one idea “being mentioned to address rest issues is whether the league should give each team two bye weeks per season, with one of them coming the week before a Thursday night game” (USA TODAY, 12/13).
RATINGS JUMP FOR THURSDAY GAMES: USA TODAY’s Michael Hiestand reports Thursday night games on NFL Network expanded from eight to 13 games this season, and the "game ratings are up over last year.” Given that game ratings for the NFL’s other TV carriers are “holding steady, there’s no incentive for the NFL to cut back on weeknight games.” The NFL has “used its prime-time games as a selling point in getting distribution by cable TV operators for NFL Network,” and the increased game schedule “helped it raise its household reach to about 71 million from about 58 million a year ago.” The league someday “might sell rights to Thursday night games to a network.” But NFL Media COO Brian Rolapp has said that the game will “stay on NFL Network for years to come” (USA TODAY, 12/13).
Members of Congress yesterday expressed their frustration at the NFLPA for “not yet agreeing to put into effect a test for human growth hormone nearly two seasons after promising to do so,” according to Juliet Macur of the N.Y. TIMES. U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who is the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform Chair, and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said that the union’s “longstanding efforts to question the science behind the HGH test were simply a way to ‘run out the clock’ and avoid honoring its agreement with the league.” The pair said that the union had “reneged on a deal it had made with lawmakers last year to allow blood to be drawn from its players.” Cummings said, “It seems like excuse after excuse is being presented and the major excuse has been the science.” He added he hoped players realized “how incredibly ridiculous” it looked that they were not being tested for HGH. Issa and Cummings said that they would “hold more hearings on the issue and would call the NFL and the players union to testify if the league did not begin testing soon.” If there is “still an impasse, individual players could be called to testify” (N.Y. TIMES, 12/13). In N.Y., Michael O’Keeffe notes the NFLPA “has concerns about the appeals process, and the league and the Players Association still have not decided who would administer the tests.” Yesterday’s hearing “did not seem to change the union’s position” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/13). The NFLPA said that it “wants a ‘population study’ to see if factors such as a player’s size and ethnicity would affect the accuracy of the HGH tests.” USA TODAY’s Christine Brennan notes the union a year ago was “complaining that the blood tests were invasive, that the testing plan was being forced on the players and that no one could trust the World Anti-Doping Agency, a line it clearly stole from Lance Armstrong.” The NFLPA also is “following the lead" of the MLBPA, which "refused to allow drug testing of any kind for so long that it tainted the reputation of an entire generation of players” (USA TODAY, 12/13).
HANDLING THE SITUATION: Goodell said that he is “likely to meet” with Cowboys DT Josh Brent “soon” after his arrest for intoxication manslaughter that resulted in the death of teammate Jerry Brown. ESPN DALLAS’ Werder & Archer reported the Cowboys yesterday “placed Brent on the reserve/non-football injury list, ending his season but not his contact with the team.” Goodell said, "Because he's not active and will not be involved with the club I think we'll allow the legal process to move forward and gain a little more clarity on that front." Cowboys COO, Exec VP & Dir of Player Personnel Stephen Jones said that the team “wants to be in contact with Brent.” Jones said, "I think we want to be able to contact him and him being able to contact his teammates. I think those things are important.” Goodell also addressed what the league “can do differently in helping educate players about the issue as well as offering different resources.” Goodell: "I don't think it's a secret that we've long felt that discipline in this area needs to be revisited and escalated on a first offense and a second offense" (ESPNDALLAS.com, 12/12).
The NHL and its players yesterday spent six-and-a-half hours with a federal mediator "and failed to make any progress toward ending" the lockout, according to Kevin Allen of USA TODAY. When players exited the meeting they "indicated lack of progress." The two sides "never were in the same room." It is still unclear "when, or if, the two sides would meet again" (USA TODAY, 12/13). NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr said, "All I am going to say is there wasn't any change in position. ... I can't tell you that any progress was made." The CP's Chris Johnston notes both sides "briefly made public statements in frustrated tones when all was said and done." No one seemed to have "any concrete idea what to do next," as no new meetings have been scheduled, and whether "mediators will remain in the process is uncertain" (CP, 12/13).
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: The talks were "supposed to be held away from reporters and cameras, but the meeting location in suburban New Jersey was quickly revealed" (CP, 12/13). In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch notes the undisclosed location for yesterday's meeting "didn't stay secret long." Canadian TV reporters "dispatched to New York" and local writers went to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service office in Iselin, N.J., where they "found players having lunch in the lobby during a break" (OTTAWA SUN, 12/13).
TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT: ESPN N.Y.'s Katie Strang cited sources as saying that, to the NHLPA's understanding, the league's stance "has not changed since last Thursday and that it maintains a 'take-it-or-leave-it' position" (ESPNNY.com, 12/12). The GLOBE & MAIL's James Mirtle reports the NHL "told players through the mediators it was willing only to go as far as offering what had already been discussed." Free agent C Brendan Morrison said, "Basically, they left it up to us to decide whether to accept their last proposal. It wasn't much of a decision." He added, "I never thought the issues were as big as they were back in '04-05. Apparently I was wrong" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/13). NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, after reports the league's last proposal remained on the table, said, "No, there is not a proposal on the table." Morrison said, "I wasn't aware of that. When we left the meeting with the mediator we were told that package was still on the table" (NJ.com, 12/12). Blackhawks RW Jamal Mayers said, "There's not much you can do when it's take-it-or-leave-it" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/13). In Pittsburgh, Josh Yohe notes Daly yesterday was "visibly agitated." Daly said, "I don't know if I'm coming back tomorrow. I don't have any more to say." Yohe notes Fehr is "pushing for more dialogue but is unsure what the rest of the week will offer" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 12/13).
WHO MAKES THE NEXT MOVE? In Minneapolis, Michael Russo wrote the owners are "done negotiating," and unless they are "bluffing, the next move will have to come from the players deciding if they want to throw away 100 percent of their salaries because they want an 8-year CBA or a little longer term in a max deal" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 12/12). The OTTAWA SUN's Garrioch writes, "If you're going to make progress in mediation, you have to have two willing participants." The NHL "wanted nothing to do with this in the first place while the union was steadfast in having mediators step in." A source said, "The league isn't going to let a mediator decide how they're going to do their business. The NHL took part in the process to humour the players. The league doesn't believe this is a solution" (OTTAWA SUN, 12/13). An NHL player agent said, "If the owners negotiate with the players, there'll be a season. If they don't, there won't be" (BOSTON HERALD, 12/13).
TICK, TOCK: The OTTAWA SUN's Garrioch cited sources as saying that the league "was going to cancel games up until Jan.14 last Monday, but, trying to entice the players back to the table, decided to hold off to see if they could get talks back on track." But after the negotiations yesterday, "don't be surprised if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman decides to slap a 'drop-dead date' on the union to get a deal done" (OTTAWASUN.com, 12/12).
HARDLINERS RUNNING THE SHOW: The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin cited sources as saying that Flames Owner Murray Edwards has surpassed Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs "as the main proponent of the NHL's hardball approach." Players in the negotiations said that Edwards also was "part of last week's Dump Don Fehr campaign." Dowbiggin wrote what makes Edwards' participation in this process "curious is that his own team, the Flames, are poster boys for the kind of spending the league is trying to curb" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/12). In Denver, Adrian Dater spoke with a "staunch member of the player side of the aisle, someone who has both played the game (for a long time) and been a part of pro hockey management." The source said, "Only five or six teams are running this league, along with Bettman. They’re going to do what’s best for themselves." He added, "If they had a real revenue-sharing system, the poor would have a chance to make money along with the middle class, and the very rich teams would have to take a little less. But Bettman will never go for it, and as long as guys like Jeremy Jacobs and Murray Edwards are running the league along with Bettman, it’s never going to happen." Dater asked another "influential NHL exec" about the possibility of having a season. The exec said, "We’ll play if (Fehr) wants us to play. We aren’t going to surrender on what [we] really need to make him a hero" (DENVERPOST.com, 12/13).
UNITED THEY STAND: Bruins G Tuukka Rask yesterday said, "Next week or so we're going to have a deal, hopefully. ... I think they're trying to see if we're going to break or not. I think they've been looking at that the whole time. ... We're a really strong union and we stick by what we want" (BOSTONHERALD.com, 12/12). Red Wings D Niklas Kronwall said, "We're in this for the better of the game and for the next generation, as well" (FREEP.com, 12/12). Sharks D Douglas Murray: "Players have made huge concessions and no matter what Gary Bettman says, he hasn't made any concessions as far as I know." Murray said of the 10-year term the owners want for the next CBA, "Would you ever do that unless you thought you had a great deal in front of you?" (MERCURYNEWS.com, 12/12). Flyers LW Scott Hartnell said of comments made weeks ago by Capitals D Roman Hamrlik that were critical of Fehr and the NHLPA, "I can't wait to see what (Hamrlik's) teammates do when guys go after him. To sell the whole PA under the bus and to stick up for a guy like that is going to be tough." Senators D Chris Neil: "I don't agree with what Hamrlik said, but it is what it is. He's come out and said that. I just think it prolongs the process" (OTTAWA SUN, 12/13).
IN THE FACE OF FEHR: GRANTLAND's Charles Pierce wrote it is "time, once again," for management "to blame Donald Fehr for everything." It always has "seemed to me that, decades ago, Donald Fehr made his peace with being a lightning rod." He never was going to be "larger than life," as late MLBPA Exec Dir Marvin Miller was, nor was he going to be "able to create his own legend, either." For his entire career, Fehr has "been the caretaker of other people's victories, the guardian of other people's triumphs." There is "something to be said for all of that" (GRANTLAND.com, 12/11). In Boston, Fluto Shinzawa wrote Fehr, like the game's "best agitators," has been an "asset to his team." With each round of negotiations, Fehr has "scratched back concessions for his employers." Fehr has "used what little leverage he's had to prompt the owners to cede gains to the players." The question is "whether Fehr has pushed too far" (BOSTON GLOBE, 12/12).
COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN: In Toronto, Damien Cox wrote the problem is "the unwillingness of each side to fully grasp and accept the primary goals/needs of the other." The owners have "communicated their objectives poorly to the players, who with a lot of bile already built up in their system, responded with unsurprising anger bordering on hatred." The players "always knew they had to give, they just didn’t want it to feel or look like they weren’t putting up a fight." The penchant for "self-destructive behaviour by both of these organizations is remarkable," but it seems to "make sense that there will be NHL hockey by January." Then, it will be "time to switch over immediately, and aggressively, to three priorities." Those are, "Growing the pie. ... Building a new relationship. ... Fixing the game" (TORONTO STAR, 12/12). Former Canucks Owner Arthur Griffiths said, "The owners have suddenly come back to the table and found this solidarity that disregards the growth in the game and disregards that in some markets it's beginning to show the progress you want" (DETROITNEWS.com, 12/11).
RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS: The AP's Dan Gelston wrote under the header, "Will Frustrated NHL Fans Who Vow To Stay Away Be Able To Keep That Promise?" NHL fan Steve Chase started the grass roots "Just Drop It" campaign that "encourages fans to boycott one NHL game for every game cancelled after Dec. 21st." He started a Facebook page and "more than 11,000 angry fans have joined." This time -- whenever the lockout ends -- the league "might be all out of tricks." They will "need to dig," and it could "take years to recover from the wreckage." Some teams are "trying to keep their brand alive among an increasingly uninterested public." The Flyers aired classic games and "brought back former stars for autograph signings at a sports bar in the same complex as the Wells Fargo Center" (AP, 12/12). Coyotes Development Coach Dave King said, "If we want to maintain our credibility for television networks, our credibility for sponsorships for our teams and all of those financial issues that are so important to the survival of the game, we can't have another work stoppage go the complete season. It just doesn't make any sense. We all know we can't go there" (POSTMEDIA NEWS, 12/13). In Illinois, Barry Rozner wrote under the header, "NHL Owners Pushing Fans To Brink Of Apathy" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 12/12). A SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS editorial is written under the header, "Fans And San Jose Businesses Need Hockey." Legitimate disagreement "over contract terms and division of revenue has turned into a battle of egos between" Bettman and Fehr. The search for a "legitimate bargain has become a win-at-all-costs blood sport" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 12/13).