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Hall of Fame voting procedure inadvertently narrows path for officials

The Hall of Fame opened the door to senior candidates at the expense of officials and other contributors.



In the year that the Pro Football Hall of Fame will enshrine its first official ever, the Board of Trustees made it more difficult to repeat the feat in the next 3 years.

The Hall of Fame will expand the number of eligible senior players to 3 for the Classes of 2023-25. This is a big step to addressing the enormous backlog of very worthy forgotten players who are more than 25 years from their playing days. That category includes players from the late 1990s, and multiple All-Decade players from long before that have not even been considered, and even the “super seniors” going back to the early days of the league. Currently only one senior candidate is selected by a committee, who then must garner 80% of the full voting members. This did not make for significant progress in enshrining older players that missed out on the conventional voting once they reached the 25-year mark.

Officials are chosen by the contributors committee, which was created in 2015 to address the lack of off-field candidates. Contributors tended to be shut out in the final vote — and until 2020, no official advanced beyond a preliminary round — because it was seen as taking a player out of consideration. In 2014, the Hall approved an expansion to a maximum of 8 enshrinees per class, gave a dedicated slot for contributors, and sent one of the two senior slots to the contributors in odd-numbered years through 2019. When a coaches slot was created, the maximum class size remained at 8, but contributors and seniors were limited to 1 each.

The format for the next 3 classes will now have a maximum of 9 — 3 senior players, 5 modern-era players, and 1 coach or contributor. This means that officials will now have to advance in competition with other contributors — owners and general managers tend to dominate, with some recent additions in scouting disciplines — as well as coaches. Coaches were given a separate committee in 2020, and nominated in 2 classes (it originally was set for 4) but will now merge into the contributor committee. The rationale given by those proposing the change was that there were more eligible senior candidates than contributors and coaches combined.

The editorial staff of Football Zebras has compiled a list of 14 officials that it is submitting for future consideration to the Hall of Fame. While the senior committee was facing the prospect of posthumously enshrining worthy players, it may now induct more humously. But the Football Zebras list of candidates only has 2 living members — Jim Tunney, 93, and Jerry Markbreit, 87. That backlog is most evident when comparing Canton to other halls of fame.

The contributor committee had 9 members, rotating 5 members each year to determine the finalist: Rick Gosselin, Jarrett Bell, Clark Judge, Peter King, Sal Paolantonio, Jim Trotter, Charean Williams, Bill Polian, and the late John Clayton. The coaches committee had 8 members, and included Gosselin, Polian, Jeff Legwold, Frank Cooney, Ron Borges, Ira Kaufman, John Czarnecki, and the recently retired John McClain. The revamped contributor/coaches committee will have 12 members, as will the seniors committee, and there is word from Judge that committees “could open the door for the persons outside the board of selectors, with historians a possible option.”

If the Board of Trustees does not make future modifications, this expansion will sunset in 2025, at which point there will be a maximum class size of 8, and the contributors, coaches, and seniors will have 1 finalist each for the Class of 2026.

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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