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Hall of Fame process still needs to be changed

Last year, the decision of the Hall of Fame voters to omit former Chiefs and Saints tackle Willie Roaf sparked a strong reaction from Jason Whitlock of, which in turn sparked a somewhat-less-strong-but-still-potent reaction from PFT.

This year, the critics have remained largely silent after the voters dissed Bill Parcells and, once again, Cris Carter.

There could be several explanations for this. First, there’s no national voice who felt compelled to wag a finger at the 44 voters regarding the failure to put Parcells and/or Carter into Canton. Second, it’s inherently difficult -- if not impossible -- to point to one of the five fresh modern-era inductees and make a convincing case that he should have been left out in favor of Parcells and/or Carter. Third, based on last year’s experience it’s now obvious to anyone paying attention to the process that some of the folks who have the keys to the Hall of Fame voting process neither want nor appreciate criticism, constructive or otherwise, with one voter resorting last year to hurling insults at Whitlock for daring to question things.

It’s not surprising that the voters will circle the wagons. To many, having a Hall of Fame vote constitutes membership in an exclusive club to which too many of the voters attach an unwarranted amount of prestige. To the average fan, the fact that a writer/broadcaster has a Hall of Fame vote is no big deal. To some of the folks who have a vote, it’s viewed as an exclusive badge of honor, something that sets them apart from the zombie hoard of sportswriters who shuffled around the JW Marriott last week with ill-fitting jeans, outdated sneakers, and curmudgeonly dispositions.

Last year, I put together a list of 10 ways in which the process needs to change. Given the knee-jerk conclusion that any suggestions for improvement constitute an ad hominem attack, the list remains fresh and relevant because a grand total of zero changes have been made. In the wake of the Carter/Parcells snub, a couple of things need to be emphasized.

First, the panel desperately needs to be expanded. As I said last night while discussing the issue with Peter King on NBC SportsTalk, the biases and prejudices of voters who likely didn’t support either Carter or Parcells because both men are largely perceived by the media as “jerks” (and they are) can become diluted by the inclusion of, say, coaches and players and -- imagine this radical concept -- people who already are in the Hall of Fame.

Sure, they’ll have their own biases and prejudices and likes and dislikes unrelated to whether the candidate should be Cantonized. Still, the use of people from different perspectives and backgrounds will dilute the feelings that can infect one specific clique, especially when the time comes for politicking and/or horse trading.

Moreover, the current group of 44 voters includes some who have no business holding a vote. (I won’t name names; here’s the list and you can draw your own conclusions.) Either they don’t have enough experience covering football or they don’t spend enough time following the sport or they don’t have a sufficient appreciation of the historical context or they don’t understand the interplay between stats and impact on game planning or they simply don’t care enough about the process or they are unemployed/underemployed in the football media or they have lost their proverbial fastball or they are too easily manipulated and/or bullied by the strong personalities in the room, some of whom they’ll be relying on in the future (or, as the case may be, right now) to recommend or support them for jobs.

The obvious reaction to expanding the pool of voters is that it would make an already cumbersome day-before-the-Super-Bowl meeting even less practical to execute. So why not get rid of the full-blown, face-to-face, day-before-the-Super-Bowl meeting? Debates can be held by conference call or conducted by email, and votes can be submitted and tabulated electronically.

Also, while some discussions regarding inclusion into Canton involve apples-to-apples comparisons among men who played the same position, the process typically involves ferreting through a basket of apples, oranges, pears, bananas, grapefruits, kumquats, watermelons, and/or pomegranates. The candidates need to be categorized for consideration by quarterbacks, skill position (running back/receiver/tight end), offensive linemen, defensive linemen, linebackers, defensive backs, specialists, coaches, and contributors. Limits can be placed on each category; for some, a rotation could be used, with specialists considered every three years and coaches considered every other year, for example.

Regardless of how the sausage-making changes, the current procedure is leading too often to bad sausage. While it may require an overhaul that many of the folks involved in the process have neither the time nor desire (nor selflessness) to engineer, the one great thing about the NFL that has yet to make its way to the Hall of Fame voting process is that burning desire to constantly strive for ways to improve.