Why there will never be a commissioner of harness racing

Unlike other sports controlled by team owners, harness racing is constructed differently and governed by individual states and provinces.

by Alan Leavitt

This is to lay to rest for all time the notion that there could, and should be, a Harness Racing Commissioner.

All around the world, virtually every sports league operates under the auspices of a commission, led, of course, by a commissioner. This concept probably first became a reality as a result of the Black Sox Baseball Scandal in 1919.

In 1919, eight players on the Chicago White Sox were caught throwing the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Allegedly they were paid off to throw the series by a group of gamblers, led by Arnold Rothstein.

In response to what immediately became known as the Black Sox Scandal, in 1920 all the major league ball teams created the position of Commissioner of Baseball, and hired as the first commissioner a federal judge named Kenesaw Mountain Landis. His job was to restore America’s faith in the Great American Pastime, and to ensure that nothing like the World Series fixing of 1919 ever happened again.

The ball clubs wanted a strong figure, and that is what they got in Landis. His first act as Commissioner was to issue lifetime bans for eight White Sox players, even though they had all been acquitted in a Chicago trial. He wound up banning a total of 18 players from various teams during his tenure, and he succeeded in restoring a clean façade to major league baseball, the job for which he was hired.

But enough of this guy with the crazy name, and baseball in general. We’re here to talk about harness racing, and why there will never be a commissioner in our future. To understand why, you first have to understand what has happened in every sports league that is under the control of a commissioner. That happened because the owners of all those teams, in all those leagues, all agreed to give up the autonomy and control to an outside entity, a commission, personified by a commissioner.

But harness racing is not made up of individual entities that together form a cohesive group, or league. Harness racing operates in various states in the union, and each of those states retains total control of it. Each state requires participants to be licensed by that state, so to own, train, drive, or groom a standardbred, you first must be licensed by that state.

Further, each state regulates racing, each according to its own rules, so that a whipping offense in one state can cost a driver $50, and in another the fine can be $200. And there is no way in the world that any state is ever going to relinquish one iota of its power and authority to an outside entity, whether he’s called a commissioner or a fairy godfather.

That’s the reality, and it will ever be thus, so let’s not waste any more breath talking about a Commissioner of Harness Racing.