Many saw the decision of the CBA Appeals Panel in the case of the four players suspended for their role in the New Orleans Saints bounty system as a blow to the authority of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. In a statement released on Thursday, the NFL clarified the panel's decision with respect to Goodell's authority.
The panel's decision rests on the little matter of undisclosed compensation that the players were said to have received as part of the Saints' bounty program. The role of the commissioner in handed down discipline for conduct was untouched by the ruling. It also reaffirmed that the league's case against the players still stood.
Here is the statement from the NFL:
In light of some confusion surrounding the ruling of the CBA Appeals Panel, it is important to understand what the panel did and did not rule. The panel did not overturn the suspensions and did not say Commissioner Goodell overstepped his authority.
The panel's decision asks no more than that the commissioner clarify his earlier rulings to ensure -- and to clearly state -- that no part of the prior ruling was attributable to matters within Professor Burbank's authority (salary cap violations). It does not require the commissioner to take additional evidence or to "reweigh" the evidence currently in the record. The panel did not take issue with any findings that were made in the course of the investigation, did not exonerate anyone involved, and did not say that the commissioner "overstepped his authority."
The panel made clear that the commissioner had full authority to impose discipline on the players so long as the discipline was attributable to conduct detrimental to the league, rather than "undisclosed compensation." The panel asked only that he clarify that he was not relying on the "undisclosed" nature of the financial incentives in imposing the discipline. In the meantime, the panel put the suspensions on hold.
Goodell will meet with the four suspended players prior to walking back through the disciplinary process. Goodell could re-issue the same suspensions for those four players under the conduct banner, and the league's statement certainly makes it clear that Goodell reserves that right. Many hope to see some compromise in the wake of the panel's decision last week, a way to save face and move on from an ugly chapter in the league's history.