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Why Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross could be in jeopardy of removal from NFL

Matt Johnson
Miami Dolphins, Stephen Ross
Allen Eyestone / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Brian Flores lawsuit against the National Football League is focused on the league’s broken hiring process, but allegations made against Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross could have far more significant ramifications.

In a class-action suit filed by Flores, the former Dolphins head coach claims that Ross offered him $100,000 for every game the team lost. Miami wanted the No. 1 pick and in a 16-game season, one win makes all the difference in draft positioning.

Ross has denied the allegations, calling them “false, malicious and defamatory” and denies ever tanking. However, an investigation is coming and the results could be monumental for Ross, the Miami Dolphins and the NFL.

Examining the allegations against Stephen Ross

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Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross unveils plans for Sun Life Stadium renovations and construction deadlines at a press conference at Sun Life Stadium on January 16, 2015.Dolphins Owner Stephen M Ross 44

In paragraph 14 of Flores’ filed lawsuit, the lawsuit details exactly what Flores said transpired in Miami during his tenure. Hired in 2019, the former head coach believes he was hired into a no-win situation because of ROss’s desire to tank for the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.

“The writing had been on the wall since Mr. Flores’ first season as Head Coach of the Dolphins, when he refused his owner’s directive to ‘tank’ for the first pick in the draft. Indeed, during the 2019 season, Miami’s owner, Stephen Ross, told Mr. Flores that he would pay him $100,000 for every loss, and the team’s General Manager, Chris Grier, told Mr. Flores that ‘Steve’ was ‘mad’ that Mr. Flores’ success in winning games that year was ‘compromising [the team’s] draft position.’”

Allegations agaisnt Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross in Brian Flores lawsuit

The allegations would suggest Ross directly violated the integrity of the NFL, breaking a code of ethics in every sport by incentivizing losing and incentivizing losing. The NBA Draft lottery exists because the league didn’t want teams deliberately losing games for the 1st overall pick.

With the NFL a far more popular sport with significantly more money on the line, any allegation of tanking against a franchise owner is serious. It’s why commissioner Roger Goodell said the accusation will be investigated because there is so much at stake for the league.

“We also take seriously any issue relating to the integrity of NFL games. These matters will be reviewed thoroughly and independently. We expect that these independent experts will receive full cooperation from everyone associated with the league or any member club as this work proceeds.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on tanking allegations against Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross

Ross can push back against one allegation, but he might have a bigger problem. NFL Network’s Cameron Wolfe reported that he spoke to a witness who said he overheard Ross offer Flores $100,000 for every loss. Furthermore, Flores’ attorneys say they have corroborating evidence to prove the original claims.

The NFL will be investigating all of the allegations made by Flores, but conclusive findings into the Miami Dolphins tanking would have the biggest impact on the league.

Why NFL’s new partnership with gambling might cost the Miami Dolphins

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May 11, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; General view of Leo the lion statue at the MGM Grand Las Vegas hotel casino on the Las Vegas strip at the intersection of Las Vegas Blvd. and E. Tropicana Ave. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL announced agreements with four sportsbooks on Aug 30, 2021. This came after Goodell and league executives pushed back against gambling for years, viewing betting as a line in the sand that wouldn’t be crossed.

But as the opposition to legalized sports betting dropped and more states signed laws allowing casinos to take bets on games following the Supreme Court ruling, an opportunity emerged. After years of pushing back against it, NFL owners saw an opportunity to make money. Pulling in record-setting revenue every year, outside of the COVID-19 pandemic, agreements with sportsbook operators would change everything.

Just consider some of the numbers for Super Bowl LVI. Both a $5 million bet and a $4.5 million wager have been placed on the Cincinnati Bengals to win the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, per the American Gaming Association, it’s estimated 31.4 million Americans will bet on the Super Bowl and that’s a 35% increase from 2021. By the end of it, more than $7 million will be wagered on the biggest game of the NFL season.

With estimates suggesting 45 million people wagered on the NFL during the 2021 season, a number that keeps climbing, there is a tremendous amount of money at stake. In 2021 alone, it’s believed the NFL may have generated more than $270 million in revenue from legalized sports gambling.

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That’s what is at stake for Goodell and every NFL owner. Even the suggestion that a franchise owner is incentivizing a head coach to lose games is a devastating blow for the image of the league’s integrity. Fewer fans will bet on games, sportsbooks lose money, and will come after the league. This is not even accounting for advertisers who likely wouldn’t want any part of a franchise that might be actively tanking. If all of that isn’t enough, it also impacts fan support and that means more lost revenue.

NFL owners didn’t get rid of Daniel Snyder even after an investigation found the Washington Commanders had a toxic culture that impacted countless women. But costing the league hundreds of millions of dollars, that’s something billionaires will have a problem with.

Can the NFL force an owner to sell?

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is willing to put up with a lot from its owners as long as their actions don’t hurt the bottom line. Snyder survived, but former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was encouraged to sell by fellow club owners after an NFL investigation found merit behind allegations of significant inappropriate workplace conduct.

However, the NFL didn’t officially force Richardson to put the Panthers up for bid following its investigation. Entering 2022, no NFL owner has ever been stripped of their team. But Goodell suggested during interviews with reporters that an owner could be removed.

“I do believe the owners have the ability to remove an owner.”

Roger Goodell on whether or not NFL can remove an owner

If the investigation finds any merit to the allegations made against Stephen ROss, a decision will be swift. Any action by the NFL will be under the name of protecting the integrity of pro football. But if Ross is found to have incentivized losing, his removal will be about jeopardizing NFL revenue like no one in the league has done before.