Inside Slant: Jim Irsay and NFL discipline

Discussion of the arrest of an NFL player quickly moves to the potential for league discipline. So it's fair to ask what might be in store for Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who was arrested late Sunday night on preliminary charges of possession of a controlled substance and driving while intoxicated.

Every case is different, and there is plenty to be learned about Irsay's situation. There is also no direct precedent for disciplining an NFL owner under the league's most recent incarnation of its personal conduct policy. But the first paragraph of the policy reads that it applies to "players, coaches, other team employees, owners, game officials and all others privileged to work in the National Football League," and commissioner Roger Goodell has reserved the right to issue punishment independent of legal proceedings and without necessarily considering past history.

There are at least three recent examples of either the league or a team issuing suspensions for front-office executives.

In 2010, the NFL suspended Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand for 30 days after he pleaded guilty to drunken driving. Lewand was reinstated after 21 days away from the team. Last summer, the Denver Broncos suspended two executives -- Matt Russell and Tom Heckert -- for 60 and 30 days, respectively, after drunken driving arrests.

The most notable discipline for an NFL owner came more than 15 years ago, when the San Francisco 49ers' Eddie DeBartolo absorbed a one-year suspension after a 1998 felony conviction for not reporting extortion on a Louisiana casino project. He eventually turned the team over to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York.

Major League Baseball suspended New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner in 1974 for making illegal campaign contributions, while the NBA docked Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor a year in 2000 for his role in salary-cap violations.

A suspension is no guarantee in Irsay’s case, but it’s worth noting a portion of Goodell’s 2010 letter explaining Lewand’s suspension:

You occupy a special position of responsibility and trust, and -- as you have publicly acknowledged -- your conduct must be consistent with someone in that position. As we have discussed, those who occupy leadership positions are held to a higher standard of conduct that exceeds what is ordinarily expected of players or members of the general public.

A suspension would remove Irsay from any role in operating the team for its duration but likely wouldn't affect his financial stake in the franchise. Each of his three daughters are listed in the team's directory as Vice Chair/Owner, providing a hint to his long-term succession plans. In the short term, it's worth noting that chief operating officer Pete Ward has been with the team for 33 years.