Special master Stephen Burbank met with the NFL and the NFL Players Association in a 90-minute arbitration hearing Wednesday in Philadelphia over whether commissioner Roger Goodell has the power to punish the players who were involved in “Bountygate.”
The NFLPA, with Jeffrey Kessler presenting the case for the players, argued that because the Saints’ bounty program is a salary-cap issue, not an on-field conduct issue, and therefore the punishments, if any, should be decided by Burbank, a University of Pennsylvania law professor designated by a federal court to arbitrate certain categories of disputes between the league and the players.
Gregg Levy, representing the NFL, argued that the bounty program, which allegedly offered financial rewards to Saints players who knocked targeted opponents out of games during a three-year period, should be considered a matter of on-field conduct. Thus, Levy said, the punishments should be determined by the commissioner.
On May 2, Goodell suspended four players for their alleged roles in “Bountygate.” Saints MLB Jonathan Vilma was suspended for the entire 2012 season, DE Anthony Hargrove (now with the Packers) for the first eight games of next season, DE Will Smith for the first four games, and LB Scott Fujita (now with the Browns) for the first three games. All four players have appealed their suspensions.
Fujita was the only one of the suspended players who attended the hearing Wednesday.
Burbank is expected to rule on the NFLPA's grievance in about a week, according to NFL.com's Steve Wyche.
In another union grievance that was argued May 16, arbitrator Shyam Das has yet to issue a ruling on the issue of whether Goodell has the authority to punish the players for infractions that occurred before the signing of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement last August.