News broke yesterday the New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has written to the league commissioner Roger Goodell asking that the team be given back its first round pick in the 2016 draft, taken away in the wake of the scandal known as ’Deflategate’. This was followed swiftly by various outlets reporting that there was ‘No Chance’ of this happening. This is likely true, and for that reason it is important to look back to the off season preceding the 2011 NFL season. From March to July, the Players’ Union and the League were locked in a bitter dispute which at one point looked to be jeopardising the entire year until a new collective bargaining agreement was reached. One of Roger Goodell’s staunchest allies, and the man many credit as the key player in negotiating the compromise was Robert Kraft. One of the key points of the new agreement was that the commissioner had full control over league discipline. Since then, we have seen a number of scandals handled so badly that the league looks, quite frankly, to have lost all kinds of control. With Goodell as judge, jury and executioner, in addition to being the court of appeal, realistically any time a team or player is punished they have two options – either a) accept the punishment which will not, after all, be overturned as the appellate judge is the very same who handed it down or b) take the League to court in a process which will further drag the name of both the NFL and others involved through the mud. Consistency is the key here. The Patriots and the Saints have suffered heavily at the hands of Roger Goodell, who have cumulatively lost $1.25m, two first round draft picks and $500,000 and two second round draft picks respectively as teams, and, in the case of the Patriots, initially had Tom Brady suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season (a punishment overturned in a New York court, although this decision is currently under appeal) and the Saints lost head coach Sean Payton for one year, had defensive coordinator Gregg Williams suspended indefinitely, general manager Mickey Loomis suspended for the first eight games of the season, and assistant head coach Joe Vitt – touted to stand in for Payton – for six. Bountygate, as the Saints Scandal is known, was unprecedented in its punishment – Payton is the only Head Coach in NFL history to be suspended for any reason. Deflategate, similarly, was an unprecedented punishment for an offence which is still very much a matter of debate – there is a large amount of scientific and other evidence that was simply ignored by the Wells investigation. The punishment, as per league rules, for tampering with equipment is a $25,000 fine. Goodell claims that, as the investigation, which he paid for, carried out by a law firm known to work closely with the NFL, and relies on them for a large portion of its income, found that it was ‘More probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware [of tampering]’ that Brady should be suspended for non – cooperation for destroying a phone, after Ted Wells himself had said that he didn’t want to see said phone, and Brady and his legal team offered records of any and all messages sent and received by Brady. Fining the Patriots not only their 2016 1st round pick and 2017 4th in addition to $1,000,000 was due to the fact that post ‘Spygate’ – another questionable scandal which says a lot more about the league and its processes (Goodell himself destroyed the tapes taken by the cameras which were in incorrect positions therefore eliminating any chance for New England to show that it was unlikely that they had gained any useful information) – that they were repeat offenders. The problem with this being that the video-taping scandal occurred prior to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement allowing the Commissioner full power over league discipline. To put this in perspective, the Atlanta Falcons illegally pumped crowd noise into the Georgia Dome whilst the opposing offense was on the field. Their punishment? The loss of a 5th round draft pick. The Denver Broncos illegally recorded San Francisco 49ers practices before the teams’ London game in 2009. Josh McDaniels, at the time the Broncos’ Head Coach was fined $50,000, as were the team who incurred zero losses of draft choices. It is this inconsistency with punishments towards teams, as well as individual players such as the various domestic abuse scandals which blighted the league in 2014 – Most notably Ray Rice, whose two game suspension was extended to a full season only after public outcry – which have made Goodell, and by extension the league, look like a fool. Those who speak in favour of him say that his job is to take the flak for the owners whose interests he represents, and to ensure that the league grows financially. In the first respect, he has done exactly that, although the harsh punishment given to New England post Deflategate, and the general handling in the media in the aftermath has made Goodell look to some extent like a reactionary slave to public opinion who has turned his back on Robert Kraft, not only one of the league’s most respected figures, but his greatest ally in previous controversies. In the second, this is palpably false. Per fivethirtyeight, since 1996 the NFL’s growth in value adjusted for inflation has far outstripped that of the other three major North American sports leagues, yet the majority of that growth came under Paul Tagliabue. Since 2006, when Goodell took the reins, the aggregate franchise value increase, once again adjusted for inflation, has been 32%. To put this into perspective, the NHL’s aggregate franchise value growth in the same period is 114%, 82% for the MLB and the NBA by 65%. So, in summary, not only is Goodell, the man hired by the owners to make them look good, damaging the league’s reputation with inconsistent and arbitrary punishments, he is also severely under-performing in his other function – to make the league money. With this in mind, come to the 2021 negotiations, the players will likely see the tenure of Goodell as a warning of having an over powerful commissioner and it is likely that the union will dig in their heels on matters of discipline, demanding more consistency. The 2011 CBA had no opt out, and so until this point there is unlikely to be any change in how matters are handled, particularly if the current regime remains in place. As a result, this could mean a lockout as whoever holds the position will be unwilling to sacrifice the disciplinary privileges that the position currently enjoys. In other words, Roger Goodell could cost us the 2021 NFL season.