NEW YORK (AP) - An arbitrator ruled Monday that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has the authority to discipline New Orleans Saints players for their role in a bounty system.
The NFL Players Association challenged Goodell's power to impose penalties for what the league says was a three-year bounty program that targeted specific players. Stephen Burbank, a University of Pennsylvania law professor, took only five days to determine that Goodell has the power to punish the players under the collective bargaining agreement reached last August to end the lockout.
Goodell suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season and teammate Will Smith for four games. Former Saints defensive end Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, was suspended for eight games, while linebacker Scott Fujita, now with Cleveland, was docked three games.
Those players have appealed the suspensions. And the players' union said Monday it expects to appeal Burbank's decision because it believes salary cap violations are involved in the payment. That would give Burbank the authority to rule on penalizing any players involved.
Burbank did, however, retain temporary jurisdiction on Hargrove's role and asked Goodell for more information on Hargrove's "alleged participation."
Burbank "invited the commissioner to clarify the precise basis for his discipline of Mr. Hargrove who, among other things, was found to have lied to the league's investigators and obstructed their investigation," the NFL said in a statement.
The union filed another grievance with a different arbitrator, Shyam Das, claiming the new CBA prohibits Goodell from punishing players for any conduct before the CBA was signed. The league's investigation showed the bounty program ran from 2009-11.
Das has yet to rule on that grievance, which also seeks to have player appeals heard by Art Shell and Ted Cottrell, who are jointly appointed by the league and union to review discipline handed out for on-field conduct.