Who’s the Worst Sports Commissioner?

It’s a question I’ve pondered a lot recently and one that I’ve had a hard time finding the right answer to. So, I figured the best way to come to a conclusion on the matter would be to air my grievances about each in blog form and see where that leads me.

The true mark of a great commissioner of a particular sports league is that person’s ability to stay out of the media. The less I hear your name on ESPN or in the paper, the more I know you’re doing your job well and correctly. Unfortunately for each of the head honchos in the major sports leagues, that hasn’t been the case, especially of late. From lockouts, to rule changes, to overcompensating for their obvious lack of manhood, they’ve all f’ed up.

But who’s able to claim the title of Worst Commissioner Ever? Let’s divulge.

bud-seligThe Mute

He’s been silent of late (which, again, is a good thing), but silence has been Bud Selig’s M.O. for the better part of his tenure—and when he does come out of hiding to make some sort of official decision, it’s usually criticized.

Most recently, Selig approved one of the most ridiculous trades in baseball history between the Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays. Granted, trades are extremely rarely rejected, and in the long run it might end up balancing out, this trade was a money-dumping franchise-imploding trade by the Marlins. Jeffrey Loria, the team’s owner, shot to the top of every fan’s most-hated-individuals list. Loria deserves to be hated more in this situation than baseball’s commissioner, so I won’t hold this one against Selig.

Still, look at some of the other things Selig has been a part of in his tenure, which started in 1992 (h/t to Bleacher Report’s Jim Flannery):

  • First cancellation of the World Series, thanks to a drawn out players’ strike, since 1904
  • The Steroid Era; the Mitchell Report; tainted records
  • A tie in the All-Star game, followed by adding “meaning” to the game by having World Series home-field advantage be on the line
  • Playoff Wild Card expansion (twice)

Selig also was mum on taking action against Melky Cabrera after the Giants’ All-Star tested positive for PEDs while leading the league in batting average—which he would have been recognized and awarded for at the end of the season. Cabrera eventually took himself out of the running for the batting title.

Then there’s the issue of expanded replay in baseball. A few seasons ago, Selig approved adding replay to determine if a home run was fair or foul, or if the ball cleared the wall. Baseball purists think allowing this kind of replay already goes too far. Others would like replay to go further to see if a ball is fair or foul when hit down the line, or if a fielder makes a clean catch, or if a base runner was tagged before he reaches a base safely, or in other similar close-call scenarios.

Another topic of discussion is the luxury tax, and spending per team. So many factors come into affect when you look at how much money a team can spend. But no matter which way you look at it, there’s a serious problem when you have a team spending $55.2 million on their entire roster (San Diego Padres) and another spending nearly that same amount—$53.1 million—on their top two players (A-Rod and Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees). Baseball’s luxury tax, which the Yanks have paid for the last 10 seasons, is supposed to be some sort of deterrent for teams to not exceed a certain threshold, while benefiting the “poorer” clubs, but I don’t buy it. (And this is coming from the guy who’s team sits right behind the Yanks in total payroll.)

And where does the MLB’s main man stand on these issues? We may never know since he loves the be quiet and not stir the pot. Tiptoeing around controversy is one thing. Avoiding it altogether is another. Selig needs to grow a set and start flexing the power of his office a little more. Spending some time with our next commissioner might do the trick…

roger-goodellThe Dictator

As quiet as Bud Selig is in the baseball world, Roger Goodell is his polar opposite. The NFL Commissioner acts like the God of football. It’s his way or no way (unless Paul Tagliabue tells him otherwise).

When I try and think of the good that Goodell has done for football, the only thing I can think of is his steps to increase awareness of head injuries in the game. But even that was due to pressure from former players, current players, and medical experts.

So what marks are there against the Caesar Goodell? Well, where to begin?

First, there’s the whole lockout situation—well, both of them. He was able to avoid losing any meaningful games in 2011, but the entire thing was a mess. Millionaires and billionaires argued for months over how to split the $9 billion in league revenue, team salary caps, and health-related issues. A deal was reached, no thanks to him, and a full season was played. Then there was the 2012 referee lockout. Yet another mess. For the entire preseason and into the first three weeks of the regular season, Goodell allowed worse-than-amateur refs to haphazardly run football contests. Fights broke out, terrible calls were made (and missed), and fans, players, and coaches revolted. It was almost a bigger embarrassment to the league than the player lockout. Eventually, Ed Hochuli flexed his guns, showed Goodell who the real man is, and the real refs returned.

Then, there’s all the terrible ideas and changes to the game that Goodell ever suggested, a majority of which came in the last month. Let’s run through a few.

Moving the kickoff up 5 yards. This move was made in an attempt to reduce the amount of returns, and lower the risk of injury on the play. While it worked—the number of kickoffs returned dropped from 80% in 2010 to just over 50% this season—I’d argue that it’s done nothing to reduce the risk of injury. No matter how deep the ball is kicked, some teams are still returning it. Which actually is a great segue to the next suggestion Goodell made.

Removing the kickoff altogether. Talk about a drastic change to the game. This change has seen mixed reviews, most of which land on the negative side. I can understand where he might be coming from with this idea (especially when you consider the story of Eric LeGrand, who’s college head coach, Greg Schiano, brought forth the first suggestions on how to replace the kickoff), and maybe it’s something that can be considered in the future, but not now. The league isn’t ready for this kind of change. Let it float around for a while. Let people get used to the idea. Don’t go announcing the idea, and then discuss it at the next owners meeting.

Expanding the playoffs. Twelve teams make it into the NFL playoffs in their current format. That’s just under 50% of the league. That’s enough. Goodell has suggested expanding to 14 or 16 teams making it, all of which makes no sense. Part of the beauty of the current format is the advantage the top two seeds get with the bye. It rewards success. Further, expanding to a 16-team format means there would be eight wild card teams that make the playoffs. That’s absurd. Don’t muddy the already-polluted water.

All dumb ideas. But that’s not the worst of it.

Bountygate was the most disgusting display of power I’ve ever witnessed. Goodell decided to make an “example” out of the Saints despite the lack of real evidence. He handed down punishments to players that far exceeded the crime (which is not exactly how I would classify the acts of the players). Even after appeals by the players, a federal injunction, and re-reviewing his review of his review of the charges, Goodell essentially upheld his harshest punishments to Jonathan Vilma and three others. It wasn’t until another review of the evidence by Goodell’s predecessor Paul Tagliabue, and the ability for the players to cross-examine witnesses for the first time, that all player suspensions were dropped. This complete abuse of power is just sickening to me. But is it enough to make him the worst commissioner in all the land?

NBA EuropeThe Micromanager

I haven’t really followed the sport too closely for the better part of my life to have a good sense of how David Stern has run the Association, but I do know this: he did have to shorten a season to 66 games because of a lockout last year, and has really paid more attention to a few details that probably could’ve been left alone.

Having to cancel games is a good way to score some major points against oneself in this internal debate that I’m going through, but I actually think I liked the NBA a little more last season because of the shortened schedule. Having just 66 games added more importance to every game and made the season that much more exciting. So, as a casual follower of the league, I can forgive him.

As far as the micromanaging goes, I’m not a fan. Things like instating a league-wide dress code, cracking down on flopping, changing the type of basketball the league used (which didn’t last long), vetoing trades, potentially fixing draft lotteries, voiding player contracts, fining teams for resting their dinosaur-aged players (read about it all here) is just doing too much.

He did increase the league’s popularity drastically during his tenure, however, so more power to him I guess. So good for him.

bettmanThe Devil

I don’t know if there’s a more hated commissioner by entire fan-bases than Gary Bettman. The man can walk into a stadium and a chorus of boos will just rain down upon him. Even if he’s there at game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals to present the home team with Lord Stanley’s trophy, the home crowd will let him know how they feel.

It’s all well deserved though. Counting the 2012 edition, Satan has lead the NHL through three different lockouts which (for all intents and purposes) resulted in the loss of two and a half seasons of games. The most recent of which also meant the NHL’s newest baby—the Winter Classic—was put out to pasture. Bettman has done more harm to the sport of hockey than imaginable, even after seeing it increase drastically in popularity following the 2004-05 lockout.

Further, Bettman has put teams in markets that would make no sense (Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Phoenix, Nashville, Carolina, etc.) instead of expanding in parts of Canada and the Northern U.S. (Winnipeg, Minnesota, Quebec), where the sport is widely popular.

Bettman shows an absolute disconnect with the fans of the sport—who, by the way, have a Facebook page dedicated to his suckiness.

And the Winner(?) Is…

As much as I’d love to say I hate Goodell the worst, the fact of the matter is only one commissioner in the wonderful group we have assembled here has lost an entire season to a lockout—and he’s about to lose a second. Gary Bettman is a complete turd. There’s no other way to put it. If I were given the power to point at and fire one person from his job it would be Gary Bettman. The man looks like the devil and his mistreatment of the sport of hockey has been a total travesty. It’s unfair to the fans of the sport. It’s unfair to the players who have had to deal with his shenanigans (especially the ones making near league minimum and are struggling to find any type of work–yeah, I know they make in a year what I make in like 20, and there are far worse-off people in society, but it’s still a tough spot to be in), and it’s unfair to employees at the stadiums and for the teams, who are out of jobs right now because he can’t keep his well-oiled money-making machine running. Hockey will be far better off once he’s out of the way and a real leader steps in to govern the game.

So there you have it. A bit long winded, but it’s all out there. Share your thoughts, and your pick for worst sports commish in the comments.

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Categories: BLOG

Author:robstott

I'm an editor for Associations Now, a magazine pubished by ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership. I live in Springfield, VA with my amazing wife, and am enjoying the ride that life is taking me on.

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One Comment on “Who’s the Worst Sports Commissioner?”

  1. December 18, 2012 at 2:36 am #

    Stern is HORRIBLE! People hate him with a passion. He was booed throughout the entirety of the 2012 draft. His greater than thou smarmy attitude along with his senseless micro-managing decisions are why he’s a horrible commissioner. The NBA is successful, but is far off its potential.

    Video of the draft booing, crowd cheers when he leaves at the end of the first round:

    Video of him asking Jim Rome if he stopped beating his wife on the radio:

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