On Hall of Fame voting, transparency could be counterproductive


When it comes to changes to the Hall of Fame selection process, there’s only one adjustment that seems to enjoy any traction with the folks who cast the ballots:  Transparency.

Currently, everything is done secretly.  No one knows who voted, or didn’t vote, for a given candidate.  (That reality necessarily makes Howard Eskin’s recent Twitter report regarding the blackballing of Cris Carter harder to fathom.)

But simply making the votes of the 44-person panel publicly known won’t solve anything.  Instead, it will make it easier for those who lobby the voters to identify who should be targeted.  And it would make it easier for fans who choose to badger and/or heckle the writers to know which ones have kept their favorite player(s) out of Canton.

Transparency makes sense only if the panel grows significantly in size and composition.  Even then, there could be only a small handful of voters who are keeping a certain player out, and those voters could find themselves bombarded with email, snail mail, phone calls, and/or catcalls.

As currently constituted, transparency would have one significant benefit for the voting panel.  It would be easier to enforce any wink-nod-you-support-my-guy-I’ll-support-yours deals among voters, since there would then be evidence as to whether the deals have been honored.  Also, just as fans and candidates and candidates’ family members and friends would be able to lobby recalcitrant voters, the voters who favor the inclusion of a specific candidate would be able to know with specificity the persons who are keeping someone out, and the voters who want that someone in could lobby the other voter to change his or her mind — or, in theory, the voters could lobby the Hall of Fame to dump said voter.

My friend and colleague Peter King touches on some of the issues regarding the Hall of Fame selection process in his Monday Morning Quarterback column.  On some points we agree, and one some points we strongly disagree.

Peter mentions one area of disagreement in particular.  He called me last week, and during the 30-minute conversation he expressed displeasure with my “assumption” that some members of the 44-person panel resist expansion because they do not want their power over the process to be diminished.  As Peter writes today, he said he was insulted.

In the interests of completeness, I responded by saying he’s naive.  (Which possibly may have insulted him even more.)  Though I’ve spent enough time around Peter over the last two-plus years to know that his motivations are pure, human nature indicates that some, if not many, of the 44-person panel will be inclined to resist any changes that would dilute their individual influence over the process.

Peter also dismisses in MMQB the notion that personal biases may be keeping guys like Cris Carter out of the Hall of Fame because Peter has never heard a voter say, “Cris Carter’s an idiot, so I’m not voting for him.”  But that’s not how it works.  The voters who have biases unrelated to the things the by-laws allow them to consider won’t be publicly declaring that they’re not voting for a candidate due to any reasons other than merit.  The process is far more subtle than that.

Maybe my perspective on matters of this nature has been warped by years of trying to pierce through the obvious denials by workplace managers of discrimination against employees based on gender, race, age, disability, or other legally-protected characteristics.  No one ever admits to improper motivations in that context.  To the extent that any of the 44 voters are driven by factors that they aren’t supposed to be considering when it comes to the Cris Carters and Bills Parcellses of the football world, they won’t be admitting it, either.

That’s the biggest reason why the panel needs to grow.  With only 44 votes and an 80-percent threshold in place to get someone in, one vote has too much say when it comes to keeping someone out.

Making the votes transparent could solve that problem by making voters realize that they may have to articulate to someone credible (or at least plausible) reasons for keeping a given player out.  But while publicizing the votes would make “no” votes based on forbidden factors less likely, it also would make it more challenging for voters who genuinely oppose a given candidate to stand their ground.

All things considered, then, maybe transparency isn’t a good idea.  But the panel needs to expand, and people other than writers and broadcasters need to be included.

Unfortunately, the annual shelf-life for discussions of his nature will soon expire.  (Some would say it already has.)  Thus, as long as the folks who run the Hall of Fame can weather the storm for a week at the most every February, change will never truly come to the process.

To the extent that any of you want to directly lobby for change, Peter has provided the mailing address for the guy who currently runs the Hall of Fame:  Steve Perry, president, Pro Football Hall of Fame, 2121 George Halas Drive NW, Canton, Ohio 44708.

After poking around the Hall of Fame’s website, it also appears that comments also can be directed to Hall of Fame vice president Joe Horrigan on this page, which for many of you will be far more efficient than writing a letter.

26 responses to “On Hall of Fame voting, transparency could be counterproductive

  1. Does anyone else get it , C. C. works for ESPN…duh ESPN doesn’t like how the voting is done..Duh what else is new each year especially with every article having Carter the point of view.

  2. I think that transparency would be a mistake. However I do believe that the voting pool should be expanded to say 50 writers and 50 members of the hall that would allow a diverse group of people to determine who gets in.

  3. The problem is that sports writers who never played the game are voting for who goes in. Do any players get to vote? At least make it 50% players who are in and 50% sports writers. One top of that rotate the voters in and out so the same people aren’t voting every year!

  4. I like the idea or ONLY scouts and GMs and maybe coaches voting on this. A large amount of writers have little clue what makes a player great and some of that is their own media bias (if the player is cooperative, human nature says they write more positively about the guy and vice versa) and some isn’t their fault as they have never evaluated players for a living. Why not make sure only the best are in the HOF? Isn’t that the point? The HOF is ProBowl esque due to who votes for it. Sometimes they get it right, but sometimes ballot box stuffing fans get PB guys right too. I don’t vote for the PB because I feel I’m not qualified to figure out who is truly worthy in a lot of the positions. First of all, I don’t watch EVERY game and secondly I’m not a professional scout or GM. I just have my amateur opinions based on the limited amount of games I can watch, like other fans and…writers do.

    Good job on this topic MF. I hope you take on the Competition Committee next. Right now that thing looks like the Supreme Court: you’re a member of it until you die.

  5. I don’t believe that expanding the number of voters for the HOF would solve the problem of people basing their votes on things other than the candidates’ on-field performance. People make choices of this kind for all kinds of reasons, rational or not. Arguing that increasing the number of voters makes the problem less severe assumes that, as you increase the number, the percentage of people who will base their votes on invalid reasons will decrease. There’s no evidence that I am aware of that this will be true. Increasing the number of voters will mean more folks making their selections for performance-based reasons, but it will also mean more people basing their votes on other factors, as well.

  6. I am comfortable with the HOF process. Its not perfect but no system would be and eventually all deserving players will get in at some point.

    Thumbs Up – Like it

    Thumbs Down- Change it.

  7. I watched nearly every game Carter played in MN. He was a poisonous influence on the sidelines, bringing down the level of play, and a coward who played the sidelines to avoid getting hit. He never showed up for the big games. He doesn’t belong.

  8. There is nothing substantially wrong with the current method of selecting HOF members. I still have not seen a good argument for passing over one of this year’s inductees in favor of Parcells or Carter. Both of them will get into the Hall but neither merited a first year or speedy induction. Carter is a fringe candidate and is no more deserving induction than Andre Reed but is obviously more visible because of his position at ESPN.

  9. Let’s say you are a HOF voter and you have one place left on your card. You are thinking WR and trying to decide between Carter and Tim Brown.

    Look at the stats:

    Brown: 9 Pro Bowls
    Carter: 8 Pro Bowls, 2 All Pros

    Brown: 1094 receptions 14,934 yds 100 TDs
    Carter: 1101 receptions, 13,899 yds, 130 TDs

    Brown: 13.7 yds/rec
    Carter: 12.6 Yds/rec

    Brown: 3320 Punt rtn yds, 10.2 yds/ret
    Carter: 0 punt returns

    Brown: 1235 Kick rtn yds, 25.2 yds/rtn
    Carter: 291 kick rtn yds, 20.1 yds/rtn

    Those are pretty balanced, and a reasonable argument can be made for chosing either one over the other based on the numbers.

    From this I make 2 points:
    1. A person who must chose between 2 candidates where there is no significant difference in merit MUST make a decision based on something.
    2. How could you possibly accuse someone of bias for selecting either one of these candidates (or Reed either for that matter?) when the decision has to be subjective.

    Now when someone picks Keyshawn Johnson over Carter, then I’ll listen to complaints

  10. Peter King and the other top football reporters are largely access peddlers. They buddy up to the top players, get access in exchange for positive press. How many times have you heard King mention in his column he texted Tom Brady after the game. Any player who doesn’t play that game gets shunned, limited mentions in the column. The top players like Manning, Brady that have big marketing campaigns know all that publicity sells shoes, sports drinks, and fUGGly looking boots. When it comes to Hall time they go with the guys that game them the most access, regardless of what type of player they were.

  11. Awwwww……apparently Peter King’s feelings are HURT.

    He can write and say everything he wants about the process, but after all of the evidence he’s displayed over the years, today’s column seals the deal for me.

    He doesn’t want his old boys club broken up and he’s an outright liar for saying that he doesn’t “do this for power”……..

    Give me a break. Kick this biased, yellow, liar off the committee once and for all.

  12. If anyone end up writing or emailing, ask them to fix the Hall while they are at it. It’s just wrong that the most popular and profitable sport in America is represented by a HOF that looks like it was put together in 1962 and you can see everything in less than two hours. It’s 2012 and the NFL is loaded. Any fan should be able to pay his/her admission and see extensive displays on the progress of the game, access any or all of the Super Bowls, and see far more about the players that grace they Hall then their busts and name plates. A few, select players have some very short clips you can access, but it is far, far too few. Each player that played from when the game was first broadcast and on, should have a complete bio with stats and a video montage of his career. That can be thrown together on any halfway decent laptop. No excuse for the Hall to be so backward and look so shoddy.

  13. Too many people keep blasting about people “who never played the game” vote. That’s garbage. (That mentality means that Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Carter should be the only people eligible to vote for POTUS)

    You do not have to have done a thing in order to appreciate the greatness of someone who did. If not, your opinion of who should and shouldn’t get in is hipocricy at its finest.

    The HoF process is flawed. There are ways to fix it but there will always be feelings of impropriety. I believe that each living member of the HoF should get an up/down vote of the finalists (along with an expanded pool of writers/coaches).

    Get rid of the senior committee and limit eligibility to 10 years after retirement. They could have a one-time separate consideration for all the players eligible until recently. Vote in a class of 20-25 more or less that a majority of people agree deserve enshrinement. They could revisit that concept on a much smaller basis every 10-20 years or so to clean up any additional issues since then.

  14. The members of the committee act as if being HOF voters make them better than everyone else. Maybe they should be limited to serving for only 3-5 years. Maybe end up with 44 people who have a little humility. The two guys from St Louis are both arrogant blowhards. And Peter King may be the biggest name dropper working in sports today.

  15. Expand???

    Bad idea!!!

    Baseball’s HOF has 500 writers voting players in. Do you know how hard it is to get into Cooperstown????

  16. east96st:

    Good point. I brought the family there 4-5 years ago and I couldn’t agree more, it’s looks really tacky.

    Everything about the NFL is impressive except the Hall of Fame, and that’s not right.

  17. The NFL Hall of Fame is a joke! They put in who they want in when they want them in for the reasons they want them in. Jim Plunkett won 2 Super Bowls and was a great QB. His parents were both blind. The Patriots drafted him but gave up on him too quick. Al Davis gave him a shot with the Raiders and he became one of their best QBs they ever had. Look what he overcame to be a Super Bowl Champion TWICE! Dan Marino never won NOTHING. He’s in the Hall of Fame. Jow Namoth won one SB and he’s in the Hall of Fame. Niether one of them are even a pimple on Plunketts butt. Also, Plunket is a native American. Namoth and Marino are not native Americans. Yes, i believe rasism has alot to do with Jim Plunket not being in the Hall of Fame. If the NFL wanted him in there he’d be in there. But they DON’T want him in there so he won’t be going, EVER. that’s the way the NFL does business. Carter whining about not getting in the Hall of Fame is so funny. Because guys like Plunkett deserve being in the Hall of Fame and Carter should never even be considered. Like i said, the NFL Hall of Fame is a JOKE! Geaux Saints!

  18. CC was not the best player of his time

    … not the best player of a year

    … not best player of his conference

    … not best player if his division

    … not best player of the week

    … not best player of the game

    … not best player of his team


    Skills, no heart. Lacks intangibles. No.

  19. I think expanding the voting pool is a good idea. But transparency is not. Imagine the trouble a voter might have covering the beat if it’s publicly known that his vote is keeping a hometown player out? I think transparency will cause more voters to vote on factors other than merit more than secrecy will.

  20. They need to push the eligibility back to 10 years. There are so many changes to the rules that make average guys look great compared to deserving guys from the 50’s, 60’s, and even 70’s. Inducting after 5 years… the guys are still too fresh in the minds.

    Ex. Why isn’t Drew Pearson in the HoF? He and Staubach invented the Hail Mary pass. He was on the receiving end of so many game winning catches, and his stats or comperable to other WRs of his time that are in the HoF. But his stats pale in comparison to a 16 game season WR today (or even 5 years ago) with looser passing and coverage rules. That’s why a significant number of these voters need to be old enough to remember the guys from 20, 30, or 50 years ago.

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