Overview of Commissioner Elections in Light of Upcoming Presidential Election

Photo by: https://www.flickr.com/photos/28795465@N03
Photo by: https://www.flickr.com/photos/28795465@N03

*Caitlin St. Amour

November 7, 2016

On November 8, United States citizens will run to the polls to vote for the next President after a contentious and passionate election season.  In light of those upcoming events, it might be wise to examine the steps for electing the leaders of something else Americans are very passionate about: sports.

National Football League 

The National Football League sets out an election strategy in their collective bargaining agreement, which requires a vote of the greater of either two-thirds or eighteen members of the League.[1]  Before the final vote, similar to the primaries for the presidential election, finalists are presented to the League by a search committee who screens possible candidates.[2]  The members of the League are the owners of each professional football team.[3]  The League also determines the length of the Commissioner’s term.[4]  The current Commissioner, Roger Goodell, has been the Commissioner since 2006.[5]

Major League Baseball

Major League Baseball requires a higher percentage of votes for a Commissioner election.[6]  Seventy-five percent of all the Major League Clubs must vote for the nominee for him or her to become the new Commissioner.[7]  Unlike the US President, who serves only four-year terms, the MLB requires their Commissioners to serve for at least three years before they resign or are reelected.[8]  The MLB had a relatively recent election in 2014, when Bud Selig resigned as Commissioner and Rob Manfred was elected.[9]

National Basketball Association

Similar to the MLB, the National Basketball League requires seventy-five percent affirmative votes of the Board of Governors for the next Commissioner to be elected.[10]  The Governors are elected by the Members of the Association, who are the owners of the teams in the Association.[11]  The NBA also elected their Commissioner, Adam Silver, in 2014.[12]  Soon after the election, Silver executed his Commissioner power by permanently banning Donald Sterling from the NBA “for making racist comments that hurt the league.”[13]

National Hockey League 

Lastly, the National Hockey League also has a Board of Governors that elects the Commissioner.[14]  The NHL simply requires a majority vote for the Commissioner to be elected.[15]  While the Commissioner of the NHL does have powers over the financial interests and the integrity of the sport, the Commissioner reports to the authority of the Board of Governors.[16]  Part of the Board of Governors’ power includes determining the length of the Commissioner’s term.[17]

Comparisons to US Election 

While the teams have minor differences in their voting requirements, no team allows for players or other employees of the Leagues to vote for the Commissioners.[18]  There are also similarities in what teams require for their Commissioners; for example, the Leagues require their Commissioners to have integrity because a major responsibility of a Commissioner for each league is to protect the integrity of the game.[19]

The MLB gave a long list of aspects Commissioners need to be adept at handling in an age where technology extends into every aspect of life, including most importantly owner and player relations.[20]  Because Commissioners can have exclusive control over disciplinary actions and disputes, the NBA chose Commissioner Adam Silver who has proved to be very good with the people in the league and handles disputes in a diplomatic and fair manner.[21]

Clearly there are major differences in the way Commissioners of sports leagues and the President of the United States are voted into office.[22]  For example, the Constitution requires candidates who run for Presidents to have been born in the United States, been a resident of the United States for fourteen years, and to be of the age of thirty-five.[23]  Nothing about integrity is mentioned.[24]

On November 8, Americans are going to be very grateful they have more of a say in who their President will be than the Commissioner of their favorite sports league.

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*Staff Writer, Jeffrey S. Moorad Sports Law Journal, J.D. Candidate, May 2018, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law

[1]See Nat’l Football League, Constitution & Bylaws of the National Football League art 8, § 1 (2006) [hereinafter “NFL Const. & Bylaws”] (describing process for voting procedures regarding new Commissioner).

[2] See Mark Maske, Owners Pick Goodell as NFL Commissioner, Wash. Post (Aug. 9, 2006),

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/08/AR2006080801043.html (reporting selection process by NFL for Goodell to become Commissioner).

[3] See NFL Const. & Bylaws, supra note 1, art 3, § 2 (detailing description and requirements of members of NFL).

[4] See id. art 8, § 1 (documenting League’s power to determine length of Commissioner’s tenure).

[5] See Nick O’Malley, Hate Roger Goodell All You Want, He’d Be Reelected by an ‘Overwhelming Majority’ Says Giants Owner, Mass Live (July 22, 2016, 1:40 PM), http://www.masslive.com/patriots/index.ssf/2016/07/hate_roger_goodell_all_you_wan.html (discussing Goodell’s likelihood of reelection despite public dislike).

[6] See Major League Baseball, Major League Constitution art. 2, §§ 8–9 (1921) (stating voting procedures for Commissioners).

[7] See id. art 2, § 8.

[8] See id. art. 2, § 9 (classifying terms for Commissioners of MLB).

[9] See Rob Manfred Next MLB Commissioner, ESPN (Aug. 14, 2014), http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/11354603/rob-manfred-voted-next-mlb-commissioner (describing process for new Commissioner of MLB and results of election).

[10] See Nat’l Basketball Ass’n, Constitution and Bylaws of the National Basketball Association art 24, § a (May 29, 2012) [hereinafter “Const. and Bylaws of the Nat’l Basketball Ass’n”] (describing election process for Commissioners of NBA).

[11] See generally id. art. 18 (detailing members of NBA).

[12] See Clippers Owner Sterling Banned for Life by the NBA, NBA (Apr. 30, 2014, 2:42 PM), http://www.nba.com/2014/news/04/29/nba-bans-donald-sterling.ap/ (detailing information about new Commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver).

[13] Id. (reporting Sterling’s punishment from Silver).

[14] See Nat’l Hockey League, Constitution of the National Hockey League art 6, § 1 [hereinafter “Const. of the Nat’l Hockey League”] (stating NHL’s Board of Directors policy).

[15] See id. (stating NHL Commissioner voting process).

[16] See id. art 6, § 3 (describing Board of Governors power and responsibilities of Commissioner).

[17] See id. (stating specific duty of the Board of Governors).

[18] See supra notes 1–16 for a discussion on the voting process of the national sports associations.

[19] See NFL Const. & Bylaws, supra note 1, art. 8, § 1 (quoting “unquestioned integrity” as requirement for Commissioner). See also Const. and Bylaws of the Nat’l Basketball Ass’n, supra note 10, art 24, § a (quoting “protecting the integrity of the game” as a requirement for Commissioner); Const. of the Nat’l Hockey League, supra note 14, art 6, § 2 (quoting “unquestioned integrity” under requirements for Commissioner),

[20] See Kevin Allen & Erik Brady, A Commissioner’s Job Description Changes with the Times, USA Today (Aug. 13, 2014, 9:19 PM), http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2014/08/13/commissioner-bud-selig-adam-silver-roger-goodell-gary-bettman/14016343/ (listing aspects of business at which Commissioner must be skilled: “TV contracts, labor relations, player health, handling Congress, handling lawsuits, criminal law, public relations, finding new revenues in new media and, as ever, owner relations”).

[21] See generally Const. and Bylaws of the Nat’l Basketball Ass’n, supra note 10, art. 24 (discussing Commissioner’s powers in NBA). See also Lee Jenkins, New Commissioner Adam Silver Is His Own Man, Sports Illustrated (May 20, 2014), http://www.si.com/nba/2014/05/20/adam-silver-nba-commissioner-donald-sterling (highlighting Adam Silver’s background and positive affects on NBA as Commissioner).

[22] See supra notes 1–16 for overview of voting process for Commissioner of four major sports leagues.

[23] See U.S. Const. art. II, §1, cl. 5.

[24] See supra note 19 for discussion on integrity requirements for major league sports leagues’ Commissioners.