Why the Hall should not cut senior classes to accommodate other groups
When the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame board of trustees has its annual meeting on Aug. 7, it’s expected to answer a question you’ve been asking and we’ve been dodging for at least a year.
What’s next for seniors?
They’re the players who are at least 25 years beyond retirement and haven’t been elected to Canton. Once upon a time (2004-14), two were nominated each year. But then the Hall’s board created the contributor category in 2014 and reduced the seniors to one candidate every other year.
That was a five-year experiment that ended in 2019, with the Centennial Class of 2020 to follow -- a group that included 10 seniors, three contributors and two coaches. Now, we’re back to assembling future classes, beginning in 2021, and the Hall’s board can do what it likes with the selection process – much as it did a year ago when it created the one-time Centennial Class.
So what does it do with seniors?
I’ve heard two possible scenarios, only one of which is worth considering. That’s where the board recommends the Hall return to two senior candidates annually along with one contributor or coach – the two categories alternating candidates every other year.
Essentially, coaches and contributors would be considered one group, with one nominee each year – and no problem there. I’m for anything that increases senior nominees and gives coaches more of a chance than they have as members of modern-era classes. Furthermore, it would keep annual classes at an eight-member maximum as we had prior to 2020 (five modern-era candidates, three seniors, contributors or coaches).
The second idea is that the board, satisfied that it addressed the overflow of qualified seniors with the Centennial Class, divides the three groups evenly for the next five years – with one coach, one contributor and one senior nominated annually. It’s a proposal I first heard a week ago and one that makes such little sense I’d like to offer the following suggestion to board members.
DO. NOT. GO. THERE.
Whatever you’ve heard … if, in fact, you’ve heard anything at all about it… it’s an unreasonable idea that abrogates the goodwill the Hall engendered with its Centennial Class. The reason: Simple. There are far, far more Hall-of-Fame worthy seniors than coaches and contributors, and the preliminary list for the Centennial Class proved it.
There were nearly 300 candidates, including over 200 seniors, 42 contributors and 13 coaches.
Now look at the Centennial Class itself. There were five times as many seniors (10) as coaches (2) and over three times as many seniors as contributors (3).
That tells you what you already know: There is an abundance … no, an overabundance … of qualified seniors waiting to hear their names called, and let's be honest: Most never will. The system simply doesn't allow it.
Ask any of the 25 voters who chose the Centennial Class, and they’ll tell you that reducing the senior field to 10 was excruciating; that they never realized how deep the pool was until they dove in. There are league MVPs, Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, passing leaders, rushing leaders and 59 all-decade performers.
“I’d have welcomed 30 enshrinees into the Centennial Class,” said our Rick Gosselin, one of the 25 selectors, on this site last week (https://www.si.com/nfl/talkoffame/nfl/senior-pool-remains-overflowing-with-deserving-hof-candidates). “That’s the depth of the abyss that is the senior pool of candidates.”
And that’s the crux of my argument. If that pool is nearly four times the depth of the contributors and coaches combined – as the Centennial Class preliminary list indicated – why would you put all of them on a level playing field? In other words, why would you make it more difficult ... not less ... for seniors to reach Canton?
Answer: You wouldn’t. Here’s hoping the Hall’s board doesn’t, either.