August 16, 2014

Should NFL owner misdeeds cost a team draft picks?

Irsay Crime and Punishment

I recently read a piece of commentary by ESPN.com’s Jeffri Chadiha which pertained to the NFL and how it should punish Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay for his looming drug-related issues. This isn’t specifically Cleveland-related just yet, but it’s no small stretch to think that it could be someday. I don’t think Jimmy Haslam is going to get pulled over with bottles of pills and enough cash to buy a really nice Hyundai, but let’s just say there might come a time when the league could be put in a position of discipline over the Browns owner due to his off-field issues.

But back to Chadiha’s commentary. I found it notable because it indicated that Irsay’s penalty should be draft picks. I found that surprising and after thinking about it for a bit, I couldn’t disagree with him more.

Let’s talk about the timing. I find it a little strange that so many people are so very impatient with the NFL as they consider punishment for Irsay. At no point has it occurred to me that there wouldn’t be a punishment. It’s a matter of what and when, not if. Irsay’s already been handed down his automatic driver’s license suspension for refusing a blood test, but the rest of the legal matter isn’t resolved yet. According to Chadiha, Irsay has another hearing on June 19.

QUOTEAfter the timing is resolved, what should the punishment actually be? That’s a really tough question. Obviously a fine has to be a part of it, but it isn’t like any fine that Roger Goodell hands out to a guy who owns an NFL team — one that easily has to be worth more than a billion dollars — is going to be meaningful. Same thing with a suspension. While he’s out, his daughter and a whole host of executives run the team.

With that in mind, I understand where Chadiha is going with draft picks. If you want a punishment to be meaningful, you’ve got to make it hurt, right? The real question, is who are you hurting? Yes, you’re hurting Irsay and his franchise value, but what of the poor fans that want nothing more than to root for a football team? Yes, they’ve been spoiled by Peyton Manning and then landing Andrew Luck, but that has nothing to do with this. We in Cleveland know all too well what it’s like to have a relationship with team ownership. We don’t get to choose them, but we’re left to try to manage to deal with these stewards of our childhood history as best as we possibly can, regardless.

When the NFL hit the Saints and Patriots with draft pick penalties for the “bounty” program and the spying incidences, respectively, that made a bit more sense. Those transgressions presumably led to competitive imbalances on the field — a far cry from a self-destructive addict taking his life and the lives of fellow motorists for granted on the streets of suburban Indianapolis. Yes, it’s bad and inexcusable, but it doesn’t impact the league from a competitive standpoint.

Roger Goodell, however, might be painted into a corner with the way he treats players. Guys like Josh Gordon, Joe Haden and Justin Blackmon — players who haven’t been arrested for their drug issues in the NFL — have been forced to pay high prices and suspensions that not only hurt the players, but also their teams and the fans of those teams massively. Through that lens it’s difficult to argue with the idea that an NFL owner should lose draft picks for his considerable asset of a team.

Much like I don’t think we should treat players with non-performance-enhancing drug issues like criminals and cheaters, I don’t think NFL owners should be treated that way either. Taking away draft picks doesn’t really do much for anyone except satisfy a strange pornographic hankering we seem to have acquired as a culture for punishments. In meting out punishments though, you should be looking to address the behavior and keep it from happening again.

This sense of justice or even comparative justice is misguided and should stop. If it stops with owners first and then the leniency extends to players in future deals that’s fine by me. For me though, finding our way to the right solution doesn’t start with doubling down on unfairness by sating the never-ending bloodlust we seem to have for punishments.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Good post. There are really two parts to the Q:

    1) Should actions off the field and that have nothing to do with the sport per se (like drunken driving, beating your fiance, etc. as opposed to the drug policy which mostly has to do with performance*) be punished by the NFL at all?

    2) IF Yes, and certainly it’s a Yes in the NFL right now, then should owners be treated like players because of the message it sends [including to players], and to that it seems unquestionably Yes. I think (1) is actually the bigger dilemma.

    In terms of actual punishment, fans will be impacted by any non-$ only punishment, but $ only punishments have little impact. Draft picks are a great way to punish an owner of a team because it hurts his team and his team’s value without impacting or perhaps even positively impacting his competing owners. Sure, fans suffer, but that is a problem for the owner, and one which hurts the owner again. For him to “make up” for it to both his fans and himself, he will have to make hard decisions that may reduce his bottom line in the short term to keep his fans happy and to rehab his image… and all of that seems appropriate.

    * and drugs that do not have to do with performance are a good Q if they should be included

  • Bob

    So what’s a preferable alternative?

    Forcing Irsay to sell the team (e.g. forcing a person’s hand on a billion dollar transaction) is too harsh for a first time offence, but a fine is to lenient ($1,000 to me is much different than $1,000 to Irsay). And I agree, draft picks hit the fans more than the owners (who still have their rocket cars, solid gold mansions and piles of money with many beautiful women to go home to).

    Perhaps make them perform some number of hours of community service, supervised by someone who will make sure they work, rather than just pose for photo-ops showing how much they care about the community could be a suitable alternative?

  • Bob

    *I’m not familiar with professional sports contracts, but I would imagine there are often some variation of a moral clause that the league can resort to in extreme circumstances (such and the Clippers owner).

  • mgbode

    I agree with yes to (1) and (2), but completely disagree with draft picks being taken away.

    $ punishments should continue as a symbolic gesture (and that it does feed into the NFL’s philanthropic activities, which is a net positive).

    Suspensions should occur as well. For owners, they own a team to be recognized as the owner so that if they are not allowed to attend games, be at meetings, etc. then it is a true penalty and falls in line with the players penalty.

    In addition, I would take away team voting privileges for a set amount of time. Potentially, you could take them out of committees, not allow them to attend the owner’s meetings, etc. depending upon how egregious the act. If you want to hurt owner’s, then the true place to hurt them is in the direction of the NFL (owners care a little about those draft picks, but I would venture to guess that most would be hurt more by not being able to attend the owner’s meeting that discusses the direction of the league moving forward).

  • mgbode

    the alternative is to take away “owner’s rights” for a specific amount of time. not allowed to be with the team, not allowed to vote on league matters or be part of the committees or go to the owners meeting.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    I don’t know that you can take away their legal rights unless that’s in the by-laws. (And that’s perhaps a worthy suggestion, though gets tricky.)

  • mgbode

    yes, it would have to be an agreed upon contract item. but, the same goes for taking away draft picks for such actions.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    I thought that was already allowed.

    Regardless, I’m hesitant about Q#1. It starts to get dicey really quickly. I’m fine with teams having their own punishments in place [in their player contracts], but I’m conflicted as to how much say a league should have over the employees of its various members for items which don’t impact the league itself.

  • Bob

    good point

  • Harv 21

    Not sure that negative personal behavior by owners unrelated to team performance is a significant issue to the NFL. Certainly the league has a right to control its public image, but the claimed “hypocrisy” in how Irsay and Josh Gordon are treated seems facile. Consumers buy into the players, sometimes the coaches, rarely the owners.The players are the primary product, the one that can most harm the business if defective. We don’t watch a game with the owners in mind unless the owner is one of the few notorious in their public conspicuousness.

    But if we’re pretending there’s a problem in need of a solution, the obvious place is team control. There’s no more Modells and Browns, cobbling together investors to buy a franchise who then make their fortune through network revenue sharing. These are prior billionaires, impervious to fines. Gotta hit ‘em in the reason for their presence in the league, right in the ol’ ego.

  • Hopwin

    He should be forced to forfeit a % of the team revenue. Not a fine, not draft picks, not a suspension. He should have to give up 10% of the team’s topline income and put it to a charity.

  • maxfnmloans

    I agree with this. I also think that owning a sports franchis is often an exercise in vanity for a lot of owners. They like to be around on gameday, in their suites, chests puffed out, glad-handing the bigwigs who pay through the nose for luxury boxes, etc. It’s definitely an ego thing, and taking that away from them (i.e. not allowed in the stadium during gameday) might be an alternative. And hey, since fines or the threat of lost playing time doesn’t resonate with an owner, make the suspension longer than what a player would get (half a season? more?).

    And I’m tired of hearing talking heads and players comment on how its unfair Irsay hasn’t been punished yet. They complain, and their basis is that players get punished so owners should too. Except, they completely lose sight of the fact that players aren’t punished until after legal proceedings are completed. they’re essentially arguing for him to be treated differently, so they dont have to think he’s being treated differently. Ignorance is fun.

  • The_Matt_Of_Akron

    Post-season ban? Fans with season tickets still get to watch all their favorite players play for 16 games, but with no reward. Doesn’t work as well for owners of terrible teams, though.

  • mgbode

    I don’t know what the terms are to take away draft picks. As indicated above, the previous transgressions were for on-field competitive advantages.

    and, as we saw with Sterling, the NBA (at least) has a clause to allow suspension for owners (Donald getting a lifetime suspension).

  • mgbode

    are you trying to get the guy killed? imagine the Browns getting a post-season ban handed to them due to Haslam’s Pilot issues with a 14-2 record for the first truly great season since Paul Brown.

    (yes, I wrote that just so I could dream about that 14-2 record…it’s the Browns, so it would have to happen right after such a rule went down)