Yesterday, when looking at reports of the changes to the Joint Drug Agreement, I said that the increased penalties and testing protocols didn’t seem draconian. The latest report on the changes could change my mind about that.
Christine Brennan reports that the policy — not yet finalized — will bar from the postseason any player who was disciplined for PED use during the regular season, even if the player has already served his suspension and has returned to action. Meaning that a first-time offender can receive an 80-game suspension in April, return to the team in late June, play for the team for the final three months of the season, and then still be ineligible for postseason play.
This, I feel, is extreme for two reasons. First, it crosses the line from a penalization of the player to a penalization of the team. Clean players’ chances to advance in the playoffs will potentially be harmed through no fault of their own and front offices, likewise blameless, will be forced to scramble to fill holes despite not having any ineligible players. This despite a drug violation that could be a year old or more.
Second, this penalty may serve as a defacto order that a player be released or hidden on the DL with fake injuries. Again, if the timing is just right, and a potential playoff team has a guy coming back from a first-time PED suspension, there will be a strong incentive to release the guy or trade him to non-contender or stash him on the disabled list in order to obtain roster space for players who won’t be ineligible for the playoffs. It’s a backdoor way to add uneven discipline (players on playoff teams will be punished more than players on losing teams), in the form of incentivizing roster chicanery.
If the players want this, well, no one can stop them. But by allowing drug discipline to bleed over into team construction issues is to surrender a good bit of power and job security. Two issues players fought for for decades separate and apart from the drug penalty context. It could serve as a Trojan Horse by which the owners can sneak into areas of labor relations long since settled by the union separate and apart from the drug penalty context. Why not add pension provisions to drug penalties? Have drug penalties affect service time and free agency? Maybe guys suspended for drugs will be forced to have different travel accommodations. All of that would certainly represent a get tough attitude on drug cheats.
And all of it, like this proposed playoff suspension, would serve to undermine decades of union gains for reasons that have almost nothing to do with labor relations.