Special master Stephen Burbank said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was within his powers when he ordered four players suspended for at least part of the 2012 season.
The players were all members of the New Orleans Saints in 2009-11 when a program offered cash payments for big hits that forced opponents from the game, an NFL investigation found.
New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma was suspended for the entire 2012 season while defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, was benched for eight games; Saints defensive end Will Smith was suspended for four games; and linebacker Scott Fujita, now with Cleveland, for three games.
All have appealed the disciplinary action.
The NFL Players Association filed a grievance, saying actions prior to the current collective bargaining agreement aren't subject to league discipline.
Burbank, however, upheld Goodell's authority in the actions. The NFLPA issued a statement saying none of the players have seen the NFL's evidence of wrongdoing.
In addition to the players, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely for his lead role in the program. New Orleans Coach Sean Payton was suspended for the 2012 season and General Manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for eight regular-season games.