Commissioners in sports take on a very important role in running and facilitating their respective league. They make decisions regarding player suspensions and in making & enforcing rules for the betterment of the game. These decisions change the landscape of that sport for the better or for the worse. Taking this into consideration, one would think that a commissioner needs to have been involved with the sport for a large portion of their life. It wouldn’t make sense to have someone who doesn’t know much about a sport dictate its development and regulations. This can cause the game to worsen and can cause the fans to lose interest.
Roger Goodell perfectly fits the idea of personal inexperience within his sport. There is a reason that he gets booed every time he announces each pick in the NFL draft, and it is very easy to see why fans feel this way. He meddles with issues surrounding deflategate, Thursday Night Football, Ray Rice, the ruling around what constitutes a catch and the 2012 referee lockout, to name a few. Goodell especially has shown a lack of ability to deal with player suspension issues. In the case of deflategate, whether one may believe that the footballs were purposely under-inflated or not, it is very apparent that Goodell did a very poor job dealing with the situation. At first, Goodell was very quick to jump to the conclusion that the scandal was true, but when the Ideal Gas Law was brought up, he avoided it. Throughout the scandal, there was never concrete proof to make a decision to suspend Tom Brady. Despite this, Goodell ended up suspending Tom Brady two seasons later. This angered many Patriots fans, as well as many NFL-lovers around the league. Goodell was unable to settle an important discrepancy in his league in a timely manner, which made him subject to deserved criticism.
Roger Goodell also added Thursday Night Football to the NFL, which has produced a more poor level of play from teams involved in these games. This is mainly due to the short week, which gives teams less time to prepare for their opponent and recover from the previous week. Because of the taxing nature of football, rest and preparation is extremely important when it comes to the success of any team. Since Goodell has never played or coached in the NFL, he does not understand the importance of this time. When it came to the Ray Rice suspension for domestic abuse against his wife, he gave just a two game suspension. Once the tape of the incident that depicted the severity of the instance was released, the general public inside and outside the NFL were outraged. He changed the suspension to indefinite, but since Rice was already punished once, the judge ruled it unjust to punish him twice for the same crime. This situation caused many public relations issues for the NFL because it gave an impression that the NFL was light on domestic abuse related issues. Ask yourself this: Does it make sense to have suspended Tom Brady for two more games than Ray Rice?
Another mistake that Goodell has made regards the rules that define a catch in the NFL. There have been a few changes made with this rule in the past few years. It is still unclear as to what is and what is not a catch. This rule has decided several games in the last few years that cost teams their entire season, like the NFC divisional playoff game in 2014 that ended the Dallas Cowboys’ Super Bowl hopes that year . The 2012 referee lockout was also a disaster for fans. Roger Goodell refused to pay the usual referees what they had asked for, despite their comparatively superior abilities to the replacement referees. These replacement referees did a horrific job, specifically with games like the “Fail Mary” game between the Seahawks and Packers that year.
Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the NHL, has a similar horrible reputation like Goodell, being booed in the same way. Most notoriously under his reign, the NHL missed the whole 2004-2005 season because of their lockout. One lockout alone is a huge blow to league exposure and interest, and because it happened two separate times besides the 2004-2005 season, NHL executives all around the league were worried. Bettman is also responsible for is the “in the crease rule”, which allows players to score while in the crease under certain circumstances. This is similar to the NFL’s catch rule, because it ends up being very subjective. A good commissioner in this situation would have made a definitive rule.
Bettman has also done a poor job with league expansion. These expansion teams have been unsuccessful in regards to drawing large audiences, and a better commissioner would have put these teams in better suited markets. Instead of putting teams in the South of the United States, he should have relocated these teams to cities that have more interest in hockey, like Quebec City or Seattle.
If front offices of professional sports hope to receive more backing from its fans, it may be a good idea to instate commissioners who have had more history with the respective sport.