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Expansion, not turnover, is the key to improving HOF selection process

2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony

Canto, OH - AUGUST 6: NFL at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***

Jason Miller

At some point over the past week or so, I’ve created the impression that I favor “term limits” for the Hall of Fame voters.

I don’t.

I favor expansion of the process and diversity of the voting pool, with former players and coaches and Hall of Famers having a say. If the voting is going to remain in the hands of only 44 people, I favor a higher level of scrutiny as to who gets a ticket to enter, and to continue to remain in, the meeting room.

Some (including newly-minted Hall of Famer Willie Roaf) have argued in favor of term limits. I simply favor finding the best group of people to determine who enters the Hall of Fame, along with keeping them in place for as long as they continue to be among the best group of people to determine who enters the Hall of Fame.

I mention this because Peter King’s latest item regarding the criticism of the Hall of Fame selection process quotes an email to him from another voter, who contends that I am “banging the drum for turnover and a fresh crop of selectors every few years.” I never have said that, and I don’t think that a “fresh crop” every few years would improve the process.

The voter who emailed Peter also writes that "[s]everal of us are questioning whether we want to continue on the committee,” and that "[t]he pressure and responsibility at times is overwhelming.” Peter says that he’s also considering stepping aside from an assignment that “has gone from an honor to equal parts burden and honor.”

This is the part where collegiality and political correctness would compel me to do the predictable thing, and to plead publicly with Peter to not resign. But I’m not going to do that, even though the committee as constituted would be far worse off without him.

Every year, a narrow window opens for offering criticism of the current Hall of Fame selection process. If the folks who run the Hall of Fame can keep their heads low for a week or two in early February, everything dies down and anyone inclined to clamor for change moves on to the Scouting Combine and free agency. It therefore will require something significant to get the attention of those who have the authority to implement improvements to the process.

If Peter and others believe that what was once an honor is now too much of a burden due to increased scrutiny and pressure, then the Hall of Fame’s Board of Trustees must find a way to address the situation by, for example, expanding the panel and in turn diluting the power, and the ensuing pressure, that each member of the selection committee possesses. If the Hall of Fame’s Board of Trustees chooses to continue to do nothing, then Peter and others who no longer enjoy serving should resign. If that’s what it takes to get the Hall of Fame’s Board of Trustees to take meaningful steps to improve the process, then in the long run it wouldn’t be a bad thing.

The voter who emailed Peter also writes that “there are fewer of us who can commit to attending the meeting each year.” Setting aside the fact that virtually the entire working NFL media descends on the Super Bowl host city for the full week preceding the championship game and the fact that the selection meeting occurs in the host city the day before the Super Bowl, the simplest answer to that specific problem is this: Scuttle the selection meeting.

If/when the pool of voters grows, it will be even harder to convene the meeting. So just get rid of it. The baseball writers don’t have a meeting, and they still manage to put people into Cooperstown every year.

In a world that has changed dramatically over the last two decades, the Hall of Fame’s selection process has become outdated, in several ways. With millions more people paying attention to the NFL and thus to its Hall of Fame, far more than 44 should hold the keys to Canton. With largely forgotten players who weren’t able to secure enshrinement when competing against their peers automatically claiming up to two spots per year that could go to more deserving candidates who played the game in its far more popular and significant modern era, the Senior Selection Committee should be regarded as having served its purpose, and it should be retired. And with numerous means of instantaneous communication now available, a Highlander-style gathering of the voters, whether the number is 44 or 4400, is inefficient and unnecessary.

It would be unfortunate if Peter and multiple other competent voters resign in the face of increased pressure exacerbated by the failure of the Hall of Fame’s Board of Trustees to even acknowledge the annual calls for change. Still, if a mass walkout by the voters doesn’t get the Board of Trustees’ attention, then nothing will.