First, whether the NFL Personal Conduct Policy is even part of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") is not entirely clear. NFL club-owners announced the league's current Personal Conduct Policy on April 10, 2007, which postdates the most recent CBA. While the NFL Personal Conduct Policy was informally approved by a group of NFL players, the NFL Personal Conduct Policy was never written and signed into the CBA (at least not according to publicly available information). This may present a problem for Commissioner Goodell's enforcement because Article LV, Section 19 of the NFL CBA states that "[n]one of the Articles of this Agreement may be changed, altered, or amended other than by a signed written agreement."
Second, presuming the NFL Personal Conduct Policy is not deemed part of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, Commissioner Goodell may alternatively argue that Paragraph 15 of the NFL Player Contract allows him to suspend Roethlisberger for "being deemed guilty of any other conduct reasonably judged by the League Commissioner to be detrimental to the League or professional football." Paragraph 15 of the NFL Player Contract is part of the CBA, as it is incorporated by reference as Appendix C. However, it is not altogether clear that Ben Roethlisberger has done anything "detrimental to the League or professional football," nor that he is in any way "guilty" as the term may be defined by that paragraph.
Finally, it is worth noting that Paragraph 11 of the NFL Player Contract grants individual club owners the power to terminate any player contract if that player "is engaged in personal conduct, reasonably judged by [the club] to adversely affect or reflect on [the club]." This clause seems to be far broader than Paragraph 15 of the NFL Player Contract and may present grounds for the Steelers to terminate Roethlisberger's contract. However, this clause extends only to a player's team, and not to the Commissioner, who is acting on behalf of the league overall.
(Cross-posted on Sports Law Blog)