In the protracted fight between the NFL commissioner's office and the four suspended New Orleans Saints defenders, another round went the league's way Monday.
Arbitrator Stephen Burbank of the University of Pennsylvania Law School ruled Commissioner Roger Goodell has the authority to rule in the matter of former Saints defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove, who faces an eight-game suspension for his role in the alleged bounty system New Orleans ran on defense from 2009 to 2011, and for what Goodell has characterized as Hargrove's slippery conduct when league investigators confronted him with
Former New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove is in line to receive an eight-game suspension for his role in the bounty scandal.
Burbank's ruling mirrors one that he handed down last week against Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith, as well as former Saints and current Brown linebacker Scott Fujita. Burbank had extended the consideration of Hargrove's case while requesting additional information from the NFL.
"In particular, I requested the Commissioner -- if he 'continue(d) to believe that discipline (was) appropriate and again chose to rely on Mr. Hargrove's alleged participation in the pool in addition to his obstruction of the league's investigation' -- 'to specify the nature of that alleged participation,'" Burbank wrote in Monday's brief ruling.
The NFL fulfilled that request by furnishing Burbank with a letter Goodell sent to Hargrove on June 8, according to Burbank's opinion.
"This letter attributes the 'vast majority of (Mr. Hargrove's) eight-game suspension to (his) lying ... and obstruction' and the 'balance ...to (his) active participation in the program by pledging and contributing money to the pool...,'" Burbank wrote. "The June 8 letter goes on to state that Mr. Hargrove's 'suspension was not attributable to any agreement on your part to accept payments from the pool or to any moneys that you may have received from the pool.'"
The NFLPA contended the root of the violation was in the cash bonuses the Saints allegedly paid for what the NFL contends was, at times, deliberately injurious play. In that light, the rule breaking would involve the collective bargaining agreement and not "conduct detrimental" to the integrity of the game -- the standard employed by Goodell and one that permits only one disciplinary source: the commissioner.
The NFLPA, which said last week it would appeal Burbank's ruling against it regarding Vilma, Smith and Fujita, had no immediate reaction to Monday's decision.
Burbank's rulings against the players union, which filed the motions on the players' behalf, is purely jurisdictional. He concluded Goodell has the authority to discipline the players involved and offered no opinion on either the strength of the league's case against the Saints organization, its principals and the players or the unprecedented harshness of Goodell's punishments.
Both sides are bracing for the players' straightforward appeal to the commissioner that will be heard in New York on Monday.