Saying the NFL has had issues with its current disciplinary structure over the past few years would be an understatement. The NFL has been overruled by a U.S. appeals court — Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Tom Brady all won appeals — on multiple occasions, and the more the NFL is on the wrong side of the courts, the worse it is for the league. Most of the issues stem from commissioner Roger Goodell being judge, jury and executioner, and the NFL may finally be considering changing the current structure. With Goodell’s stated goal of hitting $25 billion in revenue by 2027, it would be wise for the commissioner and the league to make the disciplinary structure change sooner than later.
No matter what fans think of Goodell, one thing can not be argued: He has an amazing business mind. Goodell has been in multiple roles in the NFL since 1982 and oversaw some of the league’s greatest business expansion as COO of the NFL from 2001 onward. Just look at the NFL’s increase in television rights revenue — spearheaded by Goodell — and fans will see the man knows how to make money.
Goodell hasn’t done as well with player discipline — that’s putting it lightly. He has often over-reached, and that makes some sense because Goodell never went to law school. Goodell has a degree in economics and is a businessman. He excels in areas he has expertise, and struggles in areas he lacks the requisite skill set. That is no different than any other person or job in America. That lack of understanding of the minutiae of the law has led to issues with his suspensions. Again, this all makes sense.
The problem is that it seems as if Goodell has been spending a lot more of his work schedule in court than he should be. All of this stuff takes countless hours, and his time could be better used thinking of new ways for the NFL to generate profit. If Goodell isn’t focusing on The Wells Report, he instead can focus on international expansion. If he isn’t reviewing the facts of a suspension appeal, he can work with streaming partners to corner the market on cord cutters. It’s a simple issue of time management. There are only 24 hours in a day.
Goodell is an extremely intelligent business mind. He knows what he is doing, and he wouldn’t be NFL commissioner if he didn’t. However, owners may be seeing it is time for a change in the disciplinary policy. This should not be a knock on Goodell. It should be looked at as a move that makes business sense. The NFL and its owners should be using it as collective bargaining leverage, but it should be looked at as a new opportunity for everyone involved. After all, the NFL can’t get to $25 billion if it is spending all its time in court.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.