On Power in the Board of Governors

Last weekend I wrote a bit on my disappointment with Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch’s vote in favor of the current NHL lockout.  As he’s publicly said he doesn’t like the salary cap, I questioned what reason he could have for supporting the last two money grabs to the detriment of his own team.

The easy answer is that he does it to appease the other owners. He supports their initiatives and they’ll support his.

I questioned how much that has actually been the case, because the Red Wings organization doesn’t seem to have gotten anything they’ve asked for in recent years. That begs the question, what kind of power does Mike Ilitch wield among the Board of Governors?

Today, The Score’s Ellen Etchingham has a fantastic piece on the balance of power in the Board of Governors. She posits that Boston’s Jeremy Jacobs and Philadelphia’s Ed Snider are calling the shots in the BoG because they’ve been around the longest.

The stubbornness to simply stick around is one of the most underrated aspects of power formation, especially in small, closed good old boys’ networks such as NHL ownership. Power relations within such communities – within any tightly-knit, access-regulated club – depend heavily on networks of personal obligation. Favors. Loyalties. Quid pro quos. We often think of these things as a sort of corruption, but they’re no more than trades that have become unstuck in time. I do this for you now, you do that for me someday. Spend enough time with other humans and we all play this game sooner or later. It’s how business – all business, every business – gets done.

Okay, Jacobs has owned the Bruins since 1975 and Snider has controlled the Flyers since they joined the league in 1967, so they explains why they’re big-shots for the league as a whole. They’re the two longest-tenured owners, they may as well have been around forever, accruing IOUs from the rest of the league.

Here’s the thing, though. By my count the third-longest-tenured owner is none other than Mike Ilitch, having bought the Red Wings in 1982. Shouldn’t that mean that he has some power among the Board?

From Etchingham…

Mike Ilitch (DET) and James Dolan (NYR) have been around long enough to accrue geologic power, but I couldn’t say what they use it for.

That’s where my issue lies. I can understand Ilitch not wanting to oppose the two Board members with a longer term than him. I can understand him playing nice to earn favors with the rest of the league.

I can’t understand why he wouldn’t then flip the tables, call in those favors, and get the league to support one of his own pet projects.

Author: Clark Rasmussen

Clark founded the site that would become DetroitHockey.Net in September of 1996 with no idea what it would lead to. He continues to write for the site and executes the site's design and development.