Column: One vote governs NASCAR, for better and for worse
Originally Published: September 18, 2013 6 a.m.
"I have the authority to do that, and we are going to do that."NASCAR Chairman Brian France.France is right, he has the authority to make any rules he wants to ... and so would you if your father had left you the reins to an entire sport.France's comments came during a press conference to announce the addition of Jeff Gordon to the Chase for the Sprint Cup, NASCAR's 10-year old answer to other sports' playoffs. Drivers spend the first 26 races of the season piling up as many points as possible. The top 10 in points, plus two wild cards based on a combination of points and race wins, get to compete for the sport's championship during the final 10 races of the season. If you're counting, that's a total of 12 drivers who make the Chase while the other 31 drivers continue to compete for points and wins, an anomaly compared to other sports. That's the equivalent of forcing the Boston Red Sox, holders of the best record in MLB, to play the Houston Astros, the worst team in baseball, in this year's playoffs.But this year there will be 13 drivers in the Chase after France's decision to add four-time Cup champion Gordon to the lineup. It was the second change NASCAR made following the Richmond race, the last race that sets the field for the Chase. Earlier in the week NASCAR had bounced Martin Truex, Jr. from the Chase and added Ryan Newman when in-race radio transmissions and video confirmed that Clint Bowyer, one of Truex' teammates at Michael Waltrip Racing, had intentionally spun out with seven laps remaining. That brought out a caution flag that led to Newman losing his spot in the Chase. Other teams also engaged in shenanigans that resulted in Gordon being knocked out of the top 12.NASCAR drivers don't play with balls or pucks, but they are every bit the athlete that populate other sports. You can't drive left for hours at a time at speeds above 200 miles per hour separated by inches from 42 other cars doing the same thing without strength, discipline, hand-eye coordination and endurance. But the sport has its quirks, not the least of which is that it is and always has been owned and controlled by the France family.Brian is a member of the third generation of the France family to run NASCAR. He gets to make - make up, some would say - the rules as he goes along, which has even occurred during a race, all without input from the drivers, who have no union, or their car owners, who have no ownership stake in the sport. Imagine NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell making up the rules in football without the approval of the 32 team owners and/or the players' union. Goodell may have wanted to reverse a replacement official's blown call on a last-second play that gave the Seattle Seahawks a victory over the Green Bay Packers during a game in 2012. But that result wasn't retroactively overturned, although it did provide the impetus to settle the referees' lockout.When baseball was faced with a credibility issue similar to NASCAR's - the Black Sox scandal in 1919 - the owners turned the sport over to an independent commissioner, Keenesaw Mountain Landis, a former federal judge. He promptly issued lifetime bans to eight Chicago White Sox players who allegedly took bribes from gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series, even though the players had been found innocent in a court of law. Don't expect the same thing to occur in NASCAR. As long as the France family owns the sport, Brian can do as he pleases with his toy.While NASCAR drivers regularly exchange favors - for example, allowing one another to lead a lap in order to pick up an extra point - what happened at Richmond was way beyond the norm and jeopardized the credibility of the entire sport. Clearly something had to be done.The question is whether France did more harm than good to the sport when he unilaterally deleted one driver and added two others to the Chase after the fact. Right or wrong, no other major sport would have taken similar measures. But no other major sport is owned and controlled by one person.Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network and maintains the blog http://sportsbeyondthelines.com. Jordan can be reached at email@example.com.