In those meetings, attorneys for the New Orleans players deposed the NFL's drug administrator, who testified that he discovered that StarCaps contained the banned substance bumetanide but didn't share the information with the players union. His rationale was that, if the information was made public, anyone who was caught testing positive for steroid-masking agents would blame StarCaps as a way to get out it.
Funny, but two years later, that is exactly what has happened. The Saints players argued that their understanding was that StarCaps did not violate the league's steroids policy because the ingredients on the package did not list any banned substances.
Despite what would appear to the average fan as being an air-tight case – there was no way of knowing there was a banned substance in StarCaps because of fraudulent packaging – it is far from being that simple. In fact, some of those with knowledge of the league's steroids policy are pretty convinced that suspensions will be handed down.
Why? Because the league has gone to great lengths over the years since instituting a steroids policy that each individual player is responsible for what he puts into his body. Claiming ignorance of the proverbial "honest mistake" doesn't really hold water.
"I think you want to go and hear the facts," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said this week on ESPN's "Jim Rome is Burning" show. "You want to hear what's being presented and then you make a decision as it relates to our policy and what's fair for everyone involved with the game."
Although Pat and Kevin will have their hearings today, the NFL has indicated that each of the cases will be heard separately and will rise and fall on its own merits, meaning there is the potential that some players may get no punishment and others could get a four-game suspension.
Vikings coach Brad Childress said on a conference call to Jacksonville reporters that he is not worrying about the potential suspensions.
"I'm really not. I'm a big stay-in-the-now kind of person and all that is speculation and that's what you guys do," Childress said. "I'm more worried about the Jacksonville Jaguars football team and us getting prepared for them."
How the ruling will come down is anyone's guess, but one thing that is likely is that if suspensions are handed out, they will be done quickly once the testimony has concluded. With only six games to play this season, the expectation would be that if any suspensions were handed out for offenses that occurred during 2008 that the punishment will be meted out in 2008. It might happen prior to the Bears game next Sunday night or it could happen the following week. But, if players are going to be forced to sit, expect the punishments not to drag on into 2009, where the suspensions could impact another season before it even begins.
"They have due process, of course, as part of our drug programs," Goodell said. "It's something that I assume we'll be making a decision as soon as those hearings are completed and informing both the players and the coaches of the teams and our fans."