Is this a trick question? Like who's buried in Grant's tomb? Sports' highest-paid commissioner should be the leader of the most successful league, the venture that draws the largest audience and rakes in the most cash. Bless their hearts, that is not Gary Bettman, Bud Selig or David Stern.
Yes, the NFL's Roger Goodell inherited a gold mine from Paul Tagliabue and Pete Rozelle. And no, his six years in charge have not been seamless. But big picture, Goodell has achieved the elusive: He's made the best better. Perhaps most important, he helped negotiate a 10-year labor deal between ownership and players without missing a game. Sometimes the answer is obvious. Sometimes the answer is not Grant's horse.
By most measures the best commissioner is Roger Goodell of the NFL because he has continued the growth in revenues and franchise values and negotiated a new labor deal without losing regular-season games. NBA boss David Stern is widely regarded as the dean of commissioners, but his legacy was tarnished by losing part of this season to a lockout and inability to solve franchise problems in several cities.
Bud Selig negotiated a labor deal that ensures MLB peace over the next decade, which owners apparently believe justifies paying him roughly $22 million a year and making him the highest-paid commissioner in major league sports. Not their first mistake, is it?
Nothing against David Stern, Tim Finchem or Gary Bettman, but in the modern landscape of sports executives, there are two guys who stand above the rest. They, of course, are Bud Selig and Roger "Tuck Your Shirttail In, Son'' Goodell.
One of the two has crawled through muck and mire to personally help dozens of players out of tough spots while also guiding his game to unprecedented heights. That's Selig. You probably shouldn't have to pay him that much. I bet he'd stick around for the major league minimum.
The guy who needs to be paid is Goodell. After all, he's got Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder to put up with. That's real work.
The NFL has never been more popular, and Goodell managed to steer his league through a labor crisis without any damage.
So if Bud Selig is pulling in more than $20 million a year — his reported salary — Roger Goodell should be in the neighborhood or even higher.
Stern's mishandling of the Chris Paul trade is enough to keep him below Goodell. Gary Bettman's longtime infatuation with warm-weather markets drops the NHL commissioner out of contention. And while Selig has presided over an era of unprecedented growth and prosperity, he's had some bumps.
Goodell's league is at the top of the sport world, and his salary should reflect that.