Smith gets nine games; why not seven? Or 11?

Smith gets nine games; why not seven? Or 11?
August 29, 2014, 1:15 pm
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Aldon Smith will be eligible to return to face the New York Giants on Nov. 16. (USATSI)

Aldon Smith got a nine-game gift from the National Football League. Four games for drugs. Five for personal conduct. Or five for drugs and four for conduct. Or seven for the one and two for the other. In the NFL, numbers are found on a dartboard.

And no, don’t go searching for a sensible precedent here. It’s like all other NFL disciplinary cases -- it’s based on lots of ethereal things like record of misbehavior, how many headaches he’s provided, Roger Goodell’s mood, whether his shorts are hiking up on him . . . you know, whatever.

Is nine too many? Too few? Who knows? Forty-Niner fans don’t, because they thought anything longer that the national anthem on Opening Day would have been excessive. The 49ers themselves were girding for somewhere in the neighborhood of six. The TSA people probably wish it were 16.

[NEWS: Aldon Smith suspended nine games]

But the important thing to note here is that the NFL doesn’t do precedent. It does in matters covered directly by the collective bargaining agreement (like drugs), and Smith’s cornucopia of missteps isn’t really covered by the CBA, or by any BA.

But nine, rather than seven, eight, 10 or 11? It’s all part of the gift that comes from the league office. Player discipline is not guided by a set standard because Goodell wants the flexibility to make and shade his own judgments his way -- otherwise there is no real power in having power.

This even is part of the new domestic violence proclamation Goodell made yesterday -- the words “mitigation” and “up to” are prominent, thereby keeping the vagaries of the commissioner’s office at the forefront of all discipline.

[RELATED: After Rice, NFL increases domestic violence ban]

And if it’s an owner, “mitigation” and “up to” can also mean “zero punishment at all.” But that’s another grind for another mill.

Smith has been sideways with the discipline policy several times, and really is in a poor position to claim he was treated badly. The 49ers may have wanted leniency, but leniency after the Rice case would have sent Goodell’s 31 other bosses into a bit of a tizz. They’re the ones who wanted player discipline to be a priority when they hired him eight years ago this coming Monday.

So Smith gets a version of the works, and that’s how it goes. But the matter of caprice remains, and that is an issue for the next CBA. The players are entitled to know what punishment is for what misdeed, but they are not entitled to what they do not bargain for, and they failed spectacularly on this. Just as Rice got too few games for too serious a crime, Smith got 450 percent as many for a set of less serious ones.

This will trouble many people, but in your highest dudgeon, you should remember that vagueness in enforcement is one of the things commissioners like best about their jobs. It wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if there was a wiggle-proof formula that says, “This gets you that.”

So Aldon Smith gets nine games, and the 49ers don’t get to complain about it. They looked the other way too many times, so they’re in no position to yell at the NFL for looking too hard. The problem goes deeper, and the league is damned if it’s going to surrender the values capriciousness just to make the 49ers feel better about their situation.