“Roger Goodell has stepped in it again.”
Whether it is failing to read a scathing 91-page Congressional report detailing how NFL officials improperly interfered with concussion research, admittedly mishandling player domestic violence cases, or any number of other blunders, this headline has become the default for reporters covering the NFL in recent years.
Goodell’s actions are a clear abdication of what he should be doing as the head of a multi-billion dollar organization, but because NFL owners are making unprecedented amounts of money, they are unlikely to force NFL owners’ hands into making a change.
But, with the ever-growing number of crises facing the league – most notably player safety and Goodell’s obsession with maintaining unfair power over the NFL’s judicial process – it is reasonable to believe that a time could come for Goodell’s ouster.
So, what will it take for NFL owners to fire Roger Goodell?
The answer lies in the NFL’s Constitution and Bylaws:
“In the event that the Commissioner or any other officer of the League shall be convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude or be physically or mentally incapacitated to perform his duties or shall fail or refuse to abide by the Constitution and Bylaws of the League, and the Executive Committee finds that such action by such officer is detrimental to the best interests of the League, or in the event the Commissioner or any other officer of the League fails or is unwilling to perform his duties, then such Committee shall have the power after notice and hearing to suspend or remove said officer and to terminate any contract between such Commissioner or officer and the League.”
Thus, the basis to oust Goodell must fall into one of two buckets: (1) he fails to abide by League rules and the Executive Committee – composed of one representative from each team – finds that such action is “detrimental to the best interest of the League”; or (2) Goodell fails or is unwilling to perform his duties. After a hearing (wouldn’t that be something?), 24 of 32 Executive Committee members would be required to vote in favor of Goodell’s ouster.
Regardless of which grounds the termination would fall under, it is important to note that everyone associated with the NFL — including the Commissioner — must refrain from “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in” the NFL. In theory, Goodell could be found to be in violation of League rules if he participates in “conduct detrimental to the integrity” of the NFL. As Goodell has demonstrated, the definition of what conduct is considered detrimental is extremely broad and subjective. Thus, it is difficult to predict what Goodell would have to do in order to reach this standard. For example, would spending tens of millions of dollars on legal fees to drag one of the NFL’s biggest stars through the mud for conduct that never occurred meet the burden? It would be up to the Executive Committee to decide.
The biggest reason to keep Goodell around is, you guessed it, money. Goodell is making the NFL boatloads of money, including a record $7.24B in revenue last season. While a credible argument could be made that the NFL’s revenue continues to explode despite Goodell’s actions, businesses typically do no fire their leader when their value is at an all-time high.
Firing Goodell would also cause the owners a relatively minor financial hit. Because the NFL gave up its tax-exempt status last year, we do not know exactly how much Goodell makes (he made $44M in 2012 and $35M in 2013). However, somewhere in the ballpark of $132M remains on Goodell’s contract that runs through the 2018 season. On top of the amount due to Goodell, the owners would have to pay top dollar to his replacement.
There is also the question of whether there is anywhere near the necessary support exists among NFL owners. Two owners (Bob Kraft New England Patriots and Clark Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs) recently criticized Goodell but even Kraft, a longtime friend of Goodell, now says their relationship is “solid again.”
The question becomes, how many owners believe the mishandling of non-financial issues facing the league outweigh its demonstrated financial success? Until the answer to that question reaches 24, or the NFL’s revenue takes an abrupt downturn, Goodell is here to stay.