- Associated Press - Thursday, June 7, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) - The NFL tentatively has scheduled June 18 for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to hear the appeals of four players suspended for their roles in the Saints’ bounty program.

A person with knowledge of the planned hearing, speaking on condition of anonymity because no date officially has been announced, said the date is not firm. The league and the players’ union are awaiting an arbitrator’s decision on who should hear the appeals by Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita.

That decision could determine if the June 18 hearing is held.

The union twice challenged Goodell’s authority to hear the appeals. One arbitrator ruled in the commissioner’s favor on Monday. The other, Shyam Das, has not made a decision on the union’s claim that Goodell is prohibited from punishing players for any conduct before the CBA was signed last August.

The union also seeks to have player appeals heard by Art Shell and Ted Cottrell, who are jointly appointed by the league and union to review discipline handed out for on-field conduct.

Until Das rules, the NFL says it will have no comment on the appeals process.

Goodell suspended Saints linebacker Vilma for the entire 2012 season and defensive end Smith for four games. Former Saints defensive end Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, was suspended for eight games, while linebacker Scott Fujita, now with Cleveland, was docked three games.

Arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled Monday that Goodell has the power to discipline the players. The union said it would appeal that decision because it believes salary cap violations are involved in any payments involving a bounty program. That would give Burbank the authority to rule on penalizing any players involved.

Burbank retained temporary jurisdiction on Hargrove’s role and asked Goodell for more information on Hargrove’s “alleged participation.”

Vilma has sued Goodell for defamation in a U.S. District Court in New Orleans and Goodell has been given until July 5 to respond to the action.

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