How Can the NFL Hall of Fame Process Be Improved
The voting travesty
The Hall of Fame voting has come and gone for another year, and as usual there’s a lot of anger over who got in and who didn’t. My take on Hall of Fame worthiness has always been that once a guys’ in, I’m done debating his worthiness. I do not hesitate, however, to use one player’s acceptance as a reference point to discuss the worthiness or unworthiness of others. I would not have voted in Lynn Swann, but I don’t begrudge his entry. I do think, though, that his getting in a few years back takes away any excuse for shutting out receivers like Cris Carter or Tim Brown. Cortez Kennedy’s enshrinement means that there is no way Warren Sapp should have to wait very long. I doubt seriously that the 44 voters see things that way, though. Sometimes the voting seems absolutely ridiculous, both for who goes in and who does not. And that drives people crazy.
Peter King has tried to defend the process as best he could, and as always he was not very successful. There are 44 voters, and the voting is kept secret except for when a voter chooses to disclose his or her choices. We have no idea what gets said in the room, or by whom. We have no idea who decides to vote no for superficial reasons, or who votes yes because of a relationship with a player. And of course, the Peter Kings of the world want you to believe that neither of those things ever happen. I would like to see and expanded committee; 44 people aren’t enough in my opinion. One person’s vote means too much when there are only 44. A guy with a grudge, or even just a strongly voiced opinion can sway things too easily by convincing a few fence sitters.
The Wide Receiver Problem
So Carter and Brown didn’t get in, and Andre Reed is still waiting. There are also guys who are no longer playing and will be up for consideration soon like Marvin Harrison and Isaac Bruce, and guys whose careers are winding down who will be counting down until their time on the ballot, like Terrell Owens and Hines Ward. You throw in Randy Moss and that’s eight guys who could potentially be fighting for votes in a few years. This potential logjam isn’t the only problem with wide receivers; simply judging their performances is difficult. If you look at the top 20 receivers in NFL history, you’ ll notice that half of them are either still active or have stopped playing in the last five years. And five more that have retired less than ten years ago. What I’m getting at here is that we have a large group of wide receivers that are being compared to each other and not history.
The statistical explosion of the last decade has totally obscured what we’re seeing. Ward and Bruce have played during the same era as Randy Moss, and both have more receptions. Would you take either of them before Moss? Derrick Mason and Reggie Wayne have roughly an equal amount of receiving yards and are close in receptions; are they they same guy? Maybe, maybe not. Wideout numbers in general are higher today than they were in the nineties or the early 2000s. The voters who will have to distinguish between these guys have a pretty daunting task ahead of them.
In addition to Reed, Carter and Brown, there are a few more players who have finished close but haven’t gotten the cigar yet. Jerome Bettis and Charles Haley have finished as finalists for two years running now. Someone from that group should break through next year. Michael Strahan and Warren Sapp will be on the ballot for the first time; both should get in but Sapp will probably have to wait. Personally, I think Bettis is a compiler who benefits statistically from hanging around for few extra years and from being a ‘character guy’, but I could be wrong. We’ll see next year.