Friday, March 23, 2012

US Congress to Look into NFL Bounties

A subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee (Chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Il, and pictured above) has announced that it will hold a hearing on the New Orleans Saints so-called bounty program. Via Politico:
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who will chair the hearing, said Thursday the committee will also investigate whether federal sports bribery laws need to be changed to include sports bounty programs. The date for the hearing has yet to be announced, but Durbin said it will occur after the Easter recess.

“We will have a hearing and put on the record what sports leagues and teams at the professional and collegiate levels are doing to make sure that there’s no place in athletics for these pay-to-main bounties,” Durbin said on the Senate floor Thursday. “I want to hear the policies and practices in each of the major sports and collegiate sports that are being put in place.”
The NFL announced severe sanctions of the New Orleans Saints for operating a bounty program (here in PDF).  Interestingly, the punishment has as much to do with the team's lying to the NFL and the running of a bonus program. The NFL states:
Payments were made for plays such as interceptions or fumble recoveries. All such payments are against league rules.
Teams are not allowed to to make payments for perfectly legal, high-quality plays. This is explained in the NFL By-Laws, where it says that (here in PDF at p. 36-37):
No member, nor any stockholder, director, officer, partner, or employee thereof, or person holding an interest therein, nor any officer or employee of the League shall ...

Offer or pay a player or coach, and no player or coach may receive any bonus, money, or thing of value, for winning any game played in the League. No club or any representative thereof, shall offer to pay,directly or indirectly, to a player, and no player shall receive,any bonus of any kind unless such bonus provision is attached to and/or incorporated in the contract of such player.
The NFL's interest in the bounty program is likely to be motivated in part by the bad PR, but also by the interest of the league in keeping a tight grip on compensation and contracts. The league already has rules governing on-field behavior and what actions are inside and outside the rules. It may face pressure to further tighten these rules, following concern about concussions.

If the US Congress starts meddling around in how the NFL governs itself, it would not be surprising to see the discussion go from issues of NFL bounties to issues of anti-trust, player compensation and other far more prosaic subjects.


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