Change is good, right? So here are changes we'd like to see in Pro Hall's voting
While we wait on the NFL Players Association to make its next move on a new CBA, we’d like to offer some suggestions of our own. Except these have nothing to do with the upcoming NFL seasons or the proposed CBA.
Nope, these have to do with the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
For years, critics complained that the voting process is flawed and needs to be changed … if not blown up. And I don’t necessarily disagree. I mean, change is supposed to be good, right? So let’s see what changes we could make with the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s voting to make it simpler, easier and maybe, just maybe, better:
Increase the board to 50 members. It currently stands at 48. So add two more to make it an even 50, which makes the math easy. Inductees need 80 percent of the vote. That means if you gain 40 votes of approval you’re in. If you don’t, you’re not.
Make the next two voters pro football historians. The board consists of 32 media representatives who cover, have covered or geographically are close to each NFL club. Then there are 16 at-large media members, including Hall-of-Famers Dan Fouts and James Lofton. OK, so what’s the problem? We’re missing the most critical element necessary to choosing historic figures: Historians. Some board members have a thorough knowledge of the game’s history, but we could use more. So add people who do know, and I have some suggestions: Historians like John Turney and Chris Willis of Pro Football Journal. Or NFL.com analyst Elliot Harrison, who filled in as a board replacement this year. Maybe Dan Daly, co-author of The Pro Football Chronicle. Or historian Ken Crippen, president of the Pro Football Researchers Association. They know the game. They study the film. They talked to the players. They would be valuable …correction: invaluable … additions. And they would fill a necessary void.
Go back to choosing two senior candidates every year. That was the practice until 2015. But when the contributor category was created that year, the process changed. Two seniors were nominated every other year, alternating with the newly-created contributors. In other words, the seniors had two candidates one year, and contributors had two the next. In the year when one category didn’t have two, it was reduced to one … and that made an already difficult process for the senior committee near impossible. As the Centennial Class process illustrated, there are far too many qualified seniors to cut the number of candidates in half every other year. So don’t. Keep it at two.
Create a coaches category and alternate it with contributors. The Hall did it for the Centennial Class but hasn’t said if it will do it again … or do it permanently. There has been enough discussion, however, to believe it happens. So make it happen. First of all, I wouldn’t limit the category to head coaches. I would include assistants, too. Second, they wouldn’t be chosen every year. They would be chosen every other year, alternating with the contributors. So it would be one coach one year, one contributor the next and so on … and if you think that’s penalizing the contributors, it’s not. Look at the list of candidates: It includes far fewer potential Hall of Famers than the seniors. Or as Turney said, “The universe of coaches and contributors is smaller than that of players.” Yahtzee.
Change the process. Make all-decade candidates automatic semifinalists in their first years of eligibility. This was a suggestion our Rick Gosselin floated several years ago, and it’s a good one. Too often we let these guys slide, with Tony Boselli a textbook example. He was an all-decade tackle from the 1990s and wasn’t a semifinalist until his 10th year of eligibility. He’s been a Top-10 finalist the past four years. Then there’s LeRoy Butler. A first-team all-decade safety, he wasn’t a semifinalist until his 12th year of modern-era eligibility. Then he became a finalist for the first time this year in his 14th year. So the clock is ticking, and let me explain: Modern-era players have 20 years of eligibility. If they’re not elected within that period, they move to the senior pool … or the Island of Lost Stars … and good luck. Butler is the only first-team member of the 1990s’ all-decade squad not in Canton and one of only two first-team choices (wide receiver Drew Pearson is the other) from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s not inducted. Ironically, it’s the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame voters who choose all-decade teams.
Change the process Part II. Take the presentations of finalists out of the hands of Hall-of-Fame voters and make them the responsibility of teams supporting the candidates. So, instead of having Detroit voter Dave Birkett present Calvin Johnson in 2021, for instance, have a representative from the Lions do it. That takes the pressure off voters who feel the heat if and when their finalists aren’t elected … and I offer Jacksonville’s Sam Kouvaris as Exhibit A. He’s the voter who presented tackle Tony Boselli the past four years, and he’s done it so well that Boselli has been a Top-10 finisher in each of those years. That’s the good news. It’s also the bad. Boselli hasn’t crossed the finish line, and that has frustrated Boselli followers wondering what’s up with Kouvaris and why he can’t get their candidate into Canton. Trust me, this is not about Sam Kouvaris. His presentations are bullet-proof. It’s about a room that, for some reason, has trouble with Boselli’s longevity when that same room didn’t question length of career when it came to Terrell Davis and Kenny Easley in 2017. Both played fewer regular-season games than Boselli, and both were inducted. So let’s remove presenters from the fray and have teams – in Boselli’s case, Jacksonville – make the presentations instead. Now, I know what you’re wondering: What happens when a finalist who played for several clubs – for example, a Kevin Greene or Deion Sanders – is brought before the board? Who makes the presentations then? In that instance, I’d leave it up to the finalist. He chooses his presenter for induction on Hall-of-Fame weekend. He can choose his team for Selection Saturday. Prior to voting, nobody pushes harder for finalists than the teams they played for. They e-mail voters stats. They e-mail them quotes. And they sometimes make former players, coaches and staff available for interviews. In essence, they do a good job of campaigning. So let them complete the cycle. Let them make the presentations and see what it’s like to operate behind those closed doors.
Change the process, Part III. Voting on the Hall-of-Fame’s modern-era class typically begins early … and I mean 7 or 7:30 a.m. early. It happens on Saturday before the Super Bowl at the city hosting the Super Bowl, and it lasts until mid-afternoon. It’s a long and grueling process, sometimes lasting eight to nine hours, with a battery of presentations and debates limited by time constraints. With the NFL Network televising results that evening, it dictates the schedule. That puts pressure on voters to make decisions and the Hall to conduct the meeting, tabulate results, notify inductees somewhere between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. and get them to that evening’s program. All of which is great, except it can … and has … had an impact on voters’ discussions, with the last two or three finalists the most likely to suffer. Selectors simply are worn out after a roll call of 18 presentations. So give them a break and change the process. Instead of a one-day session, make it two. That way, there are no time constraints, voters don’t feel hurried or harried, and nobody -- including the candidates – suffers from voter fatigue.
Change the locale. As I said, Hall-of-Fame voting is done at the Super Bowl city the Saturday prior to the Super Bowl. That can be … and has been … a problem for out-of-town voters seeking hotel rooms for two-to-three days. Nowhere was that more evident than this year when the NFL required six-night minimums at Super Bowl hotels, which is fine if you’re covering the event for a publication or website that has you in Miami the entire week. But for others, it’s a no can-do. I know of several voters who paid $1,000-2,000 out of their own pockets to make the trip, and there’s something wrong there. The Hall reimburses voters for a significant portion of expenses, but it’s hardly enough to cover flights, meals, six nights of hotels that routinely run $300 per and (this year) transportation costs to and from a site a half-hour distant from hotels. So change the venue. Make it Canton. Fly in voters for two days of talks, and don’t do it the day prior to Super Bowl Sunday. Do it … well, keep reading.
Change the date. OK, so you know when and where votes take place. You also know when they’re announced. But all of that is overshadowed by what happens next … and what happens next is the Super Bowl. That’s a little like opening for the Beatles. You absolutely, positively cannot get the attention you may deserve. So move the vote to another date … one far removed from Super Bowl Sunday. I don’t care. Make it May, June, you name it. But give incoming Hall of Famers their own weekend to be introduced. They deserve nothing less.
Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF