Saturday, February 1, 2014

The NFL Hall of Fame is Not Broken! Leave It Alone!

By Dan Trammel

No, no, and no. Please don’t change the NFL Hall of Fame voting structure. The system works. There is nothing wrong with it. Why are we so obsessed with change?

Who has a better Hall of Fame voting system? Major League baseball? The baseball writers elected no one in the Class of 2013, although the vast majority of the baseball following public believes there are at least 10 Hall of Famers on the ballot.

The NBA? They don’t even have a Hall of Fame. It is a blanket basketball Hall of Fame, which is why its members include Ralph Sampson, Ferenc Hepp, and Joan Crawford (the basketball player, not the actress).

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Madonna went in before Kiss, Rush, and the Miracles.

No, the NFL has it right.

Let’s examine the system. First, the Hall of Fame compiles a list and submits it to each of the 46 voters for their feedback, to make an attempt not to overlook any worthy candidate. The list includes all first-year eligible candidates who have even a remote chance of induction, as well as anyone who received at least 4 votes in the previous election. The list also includes any eligible person nominated by anyone. This is an important point: Any person can nominate a player for inclusion on the ballot, simply by writing the Hall of Fame.

When additional names are added, the list is again sent to the 46 voters, again attempting to make sure no one has been overlooked. In October, the final list, which seems to include anywhere from 75 to 150 names, is sent to the voters, who are asked to vote for 25 Semifinalists.

The list of 25 top vote-getters is compiled in November, and again sent to the voters. They are now instructed to vote for the 15 finalists. The top 15 vote-getters are the names that will be discussed during the Hall of Fame selection meeting.

The voters consist of sportswriters, one from each pro football city, one representative of the Pro Football Writers of America (who serves a two-year term), and thirteen at-large delegates. The appointments, other than for the PFWA, can only be terminated by retirement or resignation.

The voters meet the day before the Super Bowl to select the Hall of Fame class. Each of the 15 finalists, as well as two Seniors Committee nominees, is discussed. After a discussion period, a vote is held and the finalists are reduced to ten. After more discussion, another vote is held and the list is reduced to five. At that point, the 5 remaining names, plus the two Senior Candidates, require an 80 percent vote for election.

Under the current rules, four to seven new members will be elected each year. The plus is that the NFL Hall guarantees they don’t run into the same fiasco as the Baseball Hall of Fame did last year, with no inductees. The negative is that there is a long list of seemingly deserving candidates. But at least that list dwindles each year. Since 1970, more than 84% of all finalists have ultimately gained election. That number rises to more than 91% when you remove players that are still on the ballot. Furthermore, of the players no longer eligible for the modern-era ballot, only 15 players were finalists multiple times but were not voted into the Hall. That number accounts for less than 6% of all of the candidates (since 1970). In other words, 13 or 14 of the finalists on each year’s modern-era ballot will ultimately be enshrined in Canton.

When a minimum of 13 finalists are future Hall of Famers, how does someone complain about the system? You think Jerome Bettis should be inducted before Charles Haley? Great. Who cares? Odds are that they will both get in within the next couple of years. If for some reason a Ray Guy or Curley Culp falls off the ballot because of the length of time that has gone by since he played, a Seniors Committee exists to discuss these men and nominate two each year to be included among the finalists. This guarantees the qualifications of these men will get to be heard. Does it work? Well, Guy and Culp are now Hall of Famers.

What are people complaining about? Do you really want ten men to gain induction each year? How watered down will the Hall be? How many undeserving members of the NFL Hall of Fame are there? Paul Hornung? Doak Walker? Maybe Lynn Swann? Honestly, one really has to reach to name many people who shouldn’t be enshrined. Compare that to Major League Baseball which has made an absolute travesty out of the process. Fred Lindstrom? Jesse Haines? Rube Marquard? No Barry Bonds or Tim Raines and guys like Lou Whitaker and Dan Quisenberry aren’t even on the ballot.

I enjoy debating the Hall of Fame qualifications of players. But Major League Baseball has taken that joy away. At least the NFL gets it right. I just hope they don’t listen to the detractors and try to “fix” something which isn’t broken. 

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