Monday, March 12, 2012

3 comments I Think It Is Time to Change the Pro Football Hall of Fame Voting Process

I have started a Fantasy Baseball league and Fantasy NCAA Tournament Bracket in Yahoo if anyone cares to join. The league ID is 76959 and password is "eckstein" for the Fantasy Baseball league and the league ID is 5876 and password is "eckstein" for the NCAA Tourney bracket. We have about two spots left in the Fantasy Baseball league and feel free to give feedback on the set up of the league if you would like.

Peter King wrote in his Tuesday mailbag a few weeks ago that he was considering stepping aside from Hall of Fame voting. While I do feel like he is being a bit overdramatic and whiny about stepping aside, especially given the reasons he states for doing so, I can also see why Peter would step aside. The Pro Football Hall of Fame process could definitely use some changes. The Pro Football Hall of Fame process shrouds the voting in secrecy and then sends their voters out into the world to sort of defend their picks, but not to defend them enough to reveal how they voted. See, voters aren't supposed to explicitly come out and say who they did or did not vote for. I see Peter's issue with taking heat for the Hall of Fame choices, but he also needs to understand he is going to get heat for the results of the process, especially given the secrecy surrounding the voting process. His best chance at affecting any changes is to not step aside.

I think a few tweaks can be made to the Pro Football Hall of Fame process and I also don't believe Peter King will step aside. He is just being a little dramatic and emotional when he wrote in his mailbag he was considering stepping aside. Of the many things we complain about concerning the Baseball Hall of Fame, there are quite a few aspects of the Baseball Hall of Fame voting that are done well. The voting is made public, the voters tend to defend their picks (even if I disagree with the defense) and the ballot is done by mail, which for better or worse is less labor intensive for Hall of Fame voters.

So I've been giving my role in the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection process some thought. It's a good time to give it some thought, too. I just finished my 20th year deliberating the immortality of retired pro football greats.

I rag on writers who tend to think backwards and use what I perceive as the wrong criteria for (any) Hall of Fame voting process. I do see veteran Hall of Fame voters as as a positive for the voting process though, as long as they are willing to be open to new and different techniques in evaluating players during the process. Therein lies the issue with the baseball Hall of Fame voting process. The voters are often seeming to use different sets of criteria to evaluate the players. Of course we have no idea what criteria Pro Football Hall of Fame voters use because it is never explained or discussed. Apparently it is a huge secret.

I've been thinking of stepping down from the committee of 44 selectors. Many of you are right. Twenty years is a long time.

Peter King isn't stepping down. I simply don't believe he will. I'm not sure I believe he should step down either. Peter was just emotional from getting negative feedback on the Hall of Fame results for this year when he wrote these comments. This is much like when Peter said his brother-in-law was considering not paying his part for Red Sox season tickets because of the way the 2011 season ended. I bet $100 his brother-in-law paid his part for the season tickets. After the emotion fades away, logic and reason sets in.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame selection process seems to be fairly simple. So I would think making some changes could be done simply as well, since there doesn't seem to be too much to change.

The three major/minor tweaks I would make to the process are:

1. Quit with this shroud of secrecy shit. Make it public which selector voted for which player and what percentage of the vote each player got. All the secrecy does is cause the fans to wonder which idiot writer did/didn't vote for a certain player and then all of the Hall of Fame voters get shit for that player not being/being included. When the fans can't direct their frustration at a certain voter, any voter gets to hear the frustration. Making the vote public isn't just about allowing fans an outlet for frustration, but opening up the process more to the public. If a selector wants the privilege of voting, that selector should have the responsibility of standing by his vote. I can't see how this is a controversial view. If a selector can't stand by or explain his vote during public scrutiny then perhaps he should not be a part of the voting process.

Fans have an interest in how the voting went and which selector voted for which player. Isn't that who the Hall of Fame is truly for? The fans? Allowing their to be a shroud of secrecy around the voting helps to distance fans from the process, which I think bringing fans into the process is a strength of the baseball Hall of Fame voting process. Fans debate a player's merits back-and-forth which engages them in the process. Allowing fans to hear a selector defend his/her Hall of Fame choices reveals the reason why a player did/didn't make it. This a characteristic of the baseball Hall of Fame process, even if the fans aren't in the room doing the actual voting. I see this as important.

2. I think agree with Peter King there should be a member of each NFL team represented on the selection committee. Whether it can be an ex-player, coach, or front office official, as long as it is someone affiliated with the team. I see it as important to allow the writers to vote, but also have a member close to the team to have a vote. Yes, it will result in longer debates and I know that isn't necessarily what Peter King or other Hall of Fame selectors would want, but I think it gives the process more credence. I see this as a minor tweak.

3. Players should be individually voted upon at the point where there are ten modern day candidates and two senior committee candidates. Again, I realize this makes the process longer, but I think it is important to keep the individual voting open to more than just five modern day candidates. If we want to fix the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I don't see how the suggestion by the Hall of Fame which states "between four and seven new members will be selected each year" can still deserve merit. Simply put, if there are eight candidates who are worthy, they should be voted into the Hall of Fame, just like if there are two candidates worthy then those are the only ones who should be voted in.

I'm fine with the vote that takes the modern-day finalists from fifteen to ten, but then taking the field from ten to five candidates? I consider that to be too narrow. I'm a Hall of Fame snob in many ways, but narrowing the list to five candidates is too small of a number in my opinion. What are we trying to prevent by keeping the number at five? Too many players being voted into the Hall of Fame? If eight players deserve induction, then what's the issue if eight players are voted in? A requirement of 80% of the vote helps to ensure only those worthy of the Hall will get in. I think the selectors should take a list of ten players, plus two nominees from the senior committee, and vote individually based on that list of twelve players. I consider this to be an important tweak the Hall of Fame needs to make.

So back to Peter King's explanation for why he is considering stepping aside...

And I've thought, independent of the argument some have proposed for term limits for Hall voters, that maybe it's time for someone else to sit in judgment of these great players, coaches and league and club officials. Fresh voices are good things.

I don't think the selectors are broken, I think the Pro Football Hall of Fame system is broken, but can be easily fixed. Once we correct the system, I think we will be able to better tell if fresh voices are needed. At this point, who knows if fresh voices are needed? We have no idea which selector voted one way or why they voted that way.

In 20 years, sitting on the panel has gone from an honor to equal parts burden and honor. I never got in this for pats on the back.

I don't think this is true. Part of the reason Peter states he wants out of the voting is because of the negative feedback he has gotten. Accordingly, the positive feedback he gets probably makes him happy he votes for the Hall of Fame. So I don't believe he necessarily does it for the pats on the back, but they certainly don't hurt.

When Chris Doleman got in this year, he said that night that the only thing better in his life would be when he died and met his maker.

Clearly, he hasn't ever met Tim Tebow. Being inducted into the Hall of Fame would immediately move to third on this list.

It's an honor -- with a heavy weight attached. And the weight gets heavier every year.

But the key point to know is the negative feedback Peter gets is what makes this weight get heavier. We can stop Peter's semi-whining simply by letting him off the hook for his votes by making the vote public. No one would question why Peter didn't vote for Cris Carter if Peter could reveal he did vote for Cris Carter. I believe part of the weight on the selectors is the inability to make their votes public.

In the last few years, I've lost count of how many people in the game and on the street have told me, in various ways, "You're an idiot, you're incompetent, you stink at this, and how can you leave [fill in the blank] out of the Hall of Fame?" And after a while, you just start thinking, Why am I doing this anyway?

So basically Peter is reacting to the negative feedback he has gotten. He can talk all around this fact as much as he wants, but the negative feedback is the impetus for his feeling like he wants to step aside from Hall of Fame voting. If we made the votes public, at least Peter would get incredulous comments about players he didn't vote for. This is as opposed to getting incredulous comments about players he did vote for, but he just can't reveal this fact because of the idiotic veil of secrecy around the voting process.

I figured the other day that I spend the equivalent of about four days of my life each year on the Hall of Fame -- asking former coaches and players and officials about the cases of certain candidates.

This is about the right amount of time that should be spent doing this.

I try to do the best and most conscientious job I can, knowing that there are, in almost every class of 15 modern-era finalists, more candidates I'd vote yes on than no.

Now while I don't think Peter King is right about everything when it comes to the Hall of Fame vote, I do tend to side with him on more issues than I disagree with him on concerning this issue. I don't know what the other selectors would do, but the idea one selector has more candidates has more players he'd vote "yes" on than "no" tells me more than five modern-era finalists should be the final list.

Maybe Peter King votes in a way it would open the floodgates too much in regard to letting players in the Hall of Fame. That is entirely possible. I think the selectors should have a wider field of players to actually vote on, it doesn't mean all these players have to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. It is true there is a discussion of fifteen candidates, but individual candidates don't get voted on until the vote gets to five candidates. I think that's too narrow. So why not narrow the field to ten modern day candidates and vote on individuals from there?

This year, when all the discussions in the room were finished, I looked down my list and checked 11 men I'd have voted for and four I would have turned down.

I will admit inducting eleven players seems like a lot. This doesn't mean Peter is representative of how other selectors would vote though. I can easily see where Peter is too lenient in allowing certain players in the Hall of Fame (from reading MMQB every week), but again, 80% of the vote is required for induction. Four out of five voters would have to be as lenient as Peter for a player to be inducted. So I'm not sure other voters are as lenient as Peter. This is what would make the process work well. Some voters are lenient, others are not as lenient. The best candidates would (hopefully) get voted in.

But we whittle the list from 15 to 10, and then from 10 to five, before we vote yes or no on individual candidates. That means, on my list this year, six deserving men wouldn't get in.

Therein lies my problem with the process. This isn't a reaction to Peter's overly-emotional claim he may step away from Hall of Fame voting, it is a reaction to a voter validly feeling (in my opinion) there are deserving candidates who won't receive induction. I don't agree there were six other deserving candidates, but why shouldn't this be for the Hall of Fame committee to decide rather than rule out players because of an arbitrary numbers game that limits the individual voting to five candidates?

The 11 I favor? It's not because I covered them or worked on TV with them; I have twice voted against men I respect and covered as a team beat writer. It's not because they are my friends. One of the men I opposed never spoke to me again after he learned of my vote. That's life.

It doesn't seem like Peter would be against his vote being made public. Now, whether this is just bluster coming from Peter or he actually thinks "that's life" if someone doesn't talk to him again is a different discussion. I see no reason the votes shouldn't be made public.

I believe all votes should be made public, because we should stand behind our opinions. I believe the committee should be expanded to include a conscientious player, coach or club official from the existing 32 teams.

I agree with Peter on both counts.

But if you think that's going to end the arguments and the perceived biases, you're crazy. It would, however, give the vote more legitimacy, in my opinion.

It is not about getting rid of arguments or perceived biases, it is about finding which selector used what criteria in voting or who has the perceived bias against a player. It isn't about blaming a certain selector for a player not being inducted into the Hall of Fame, but it is about understanding the thought process and reasoning that goes into voting/not voting for a certain player. It doesn't allow the results to be hidden behind a veil of secrecy and cause all voters to take shit for Player X being/not being in the Hall of Fame. I think the public wants to know how the vote broke down.

I try to be as honest in my writing as humanly possible, and I don't write this today to engender any sort of pity party.

No, but if Peter was being completely honest he could say the negative feedback had gotten to him.

It's a tremendous honor to be asked to be a Hall of Fame voter. I have a lot of thinking to do about this. It might be time to make it someone else's tremendous honor.

I don't think there is a way that Peter King isn't a Hall of Fame voter next year. I also think there isn't any way the voting process gets revamped. What's interesting is this voting process and Peter's problems with the voting process won't get changed if he steps down. There is a much better chance of the issues with the Hall of Fame voting process being tweaked if current members of the selection committee want to see changes made. Peter King can help affect those changes, assuming he really wants to see changes made, by staying on the selection committee.

While I deliberated in the last few days, an e-mail from a fellow voter came to me. I won't name the voter, but I asked if I could share the sentiments, and the voter said yes. This voter is having some of the same doubts about the process as I am.

At a certain point it almost seems like some of these voters want the honor of voting for the Hall of Fame, but not the criticism and responsibility that may come with it. I'm not saying this is for all Hall of Fame voters. I think some of the angst over voting would go away if selectors could voice why they voted one way or another.

I try to make choices based on one man's case against the other others. Why is that so hard for people to grasp? Several of us are questioning whether we want to continue on the committee. The pressure and responsibility at times is overwhelming to me.

I can't help but wonder if voters for the baseball Hall of Fame feel the same way. It doesn't seem they do. It seems baseball Hall of Fame voters don't get a hernia voting. I think that is partially because they don't meet to vote for the Hall of Fame and they can make their vote public.

I feel physically ill every time I take a ballot and reduce it to 15. (Am I preventing this person from entering the discussion in the room because I'm more impressed by another player's body of work?)

Yes, you are preventing a player from entering the discussion because another player's body of work is better. That's the job. To remove a player from discussion because you think another player has a better body of work. That is the entire goal of voting for the Hall of Fame. You can't make it personal and you have to judge a player on the body of work.

Taking it to 10 on Selection Saturday is excruciating. When I present a person and he fails to make it to Canton, I feel as if I've failed him.

I probably will never understand this feeling and believe if a voter thinks this way then he is making the process way too much of a personal selection rather than a selection based on professional accomplishment. That being said, opening up the player to individual voting at ten candidates would help to take away this feeling of failure. The reasoning behind this feeling may be suspect in my opinion, but in terms of the process I think it makes sense to put individual voting at ten candidates.

Mike Florio -- who I really like and respect -- is banging the drum for turnover and a fresh crop of selectors every few years. Yet this is lost on Mike and many others: There are fewer of us who can commit to attending the meeting each year.

If you can't commit, then don't be on the selection committee. It is pretty simple.

This brings me to another question...why do the selectors have to meet? Why can't they get the number of players to twenty-five and then vote on them through mail like the baseball Hall of Fame does? Why does there have to be a discussion? Wouldn't it be possible for the selectors to vote through mail so they don't have to attend the meeting and there is less pressure on the "whittling down" part of the process?

I also would reveal my vote if asked (and permitted), and I'd state my case for why I chose one player over another.

I think most voters would do this. Votes should be made public and I think the maximum number of players who could be voted in should be the ten players individually voted on, plus the one senior committee player. 80% is a high threshold to achieve and I have a hard time believing ten players would get inducted in one year. If that happens, well then one of two things can happen. Either we realize these ten candidates deserved induction or we can start to look at the selection committee members and determine if there needs to be a change made there. Otherwise, I don't know if we can change the selection committee too much (other than possibly add a member from each NFL team) while they feel as if they are being handcuffed by the process.


rich said...

I try to make choices based on one man's case against the other others. Why is that so hard for people to grasp?

This is the ultimate problem. That the voters compare players is not what's hard for us to grasp and the owner of this quote just showed how stupid and out of touch the media can be.

The problem comes down to when players like Cris Carter aren't in the Hall of Fame and anyone who watched football over the past 20 years wonders why and the only answer we get is "well he was an ass to the media."

That's what's troubling.

So basically, the fact that the voting isn't transparent doesn't allow us to know how close player X is and who was stupid enough to vote for/against a particular player.

Your first point solves this. The fact that the NFL wants secrecy around the process ultimately slights the fans and leaves us wondering "what the fuck just happened?"

For example, as a Giants fan, the fact that Parcells didn't get in bothers me, but I can get over that. The fact that Parcells didn't get in and no one is allowed to say why he's not... that pisses me off, especially when they only inducted six of the seven they're allowed.

Football is the only sport I can think of with such a backlog of Hall Worthy players that "there's someone in front of them that needs to get in first" is a actually a reason for keeping someone out.

There's often a discussion about MLB players getting into the baseball HOF along the lines of "he wasn't good enough to get in the first 6 times, why is he in now?" when in football, if you get inducted within your first half dozen tries, you must've been fucking spectacular on the field.

So while I can sympathize with what they have to go through in terms of fan reactions, this quote shows just how out of touch sportswriters are.

Ranting aside, your three changes to the induction process need to be instituted asap. It's a tragedy to think that football greats like Carter, Parcells and Bettis literally are waiting in line to get into the Hall.

Martin F. said...

I agree with Rich's problems. In fact, didn't one of the guys get in on the Old Timer vote, so isn't even one of the 4-7? I thought they said this year that 5 of 7 were voted in, and then a Veteran's Committee vote put in blah blah.

The fact that obvious HoF'rs like Parcells didn't get voted in....with 1 or 2 spots remaining is bullshit. 7 guys get voted in, then you can say so and so didn't get enough support. The last few years have not been full classes, and now we are seeing significant back up, where another 4 or 5 guys should be in the HoF. Someone please make a case on how guys who didn't get voted in these past couple years can now deserve to get in when there was already space available.

We all know the Baseball HoF voting is archaic and full of jackasses who think amount of times passed over indicates level of worthiness. In football, where the guys are in a room, arguing with each other, this is just bullshit. If you didn't think Bill Parcells was worthy of filling the 7th slot this year, then fuck you, you shouldn't be allowed to vote for him next year either you god damned mouth breather. The NFL went to the 4-7 rule because it realized a shit ton of guys who weren't QB's and RB's were getting shafted. It was becoming the Backfield Hall of Fame. If these a-holes can't get their shit together, then make it the top 7 vote getters, regardless of % of votes.

Until these things happen though, the only way to shame these guys into making votes that aren't biased on who paid them off with great quotes, or free steak dinners, is have their votes public. I'd love to see and hear the reaction of all their fellow writers and analysts for the crap votes they made. It would sure show who was being a bitch about voting for guys they had a personal grudge against too, which would be nice.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, I haven't really thought much about the voting process until recently to be honest. I think it is insane to not have any transparency in the vote. At least give out the voting totals. How are we supposed to know who or what needs to be changed if we can't see the problems. So while I think new blood wouldn't be bad, what if that isn't the problem and the new blood are the idiots holding up the process right now? The fact we have zero idea what percentage of the vote a player got makes no sense to me at all.

The choices should be made public and there really isn't a reason they should have to meet to hash these things out. Make it a less stressful process and mail in your vote. This isn't Congress, we don't need a debate. Let the voters vote and the fans can debate them. It makes the voting more fun and engages the fans...which is the entire point of the Pro Football Hall of Fame anyway.

I think it is a tragedy these guys are waiting in line as well. It's ridiculous. I don't want to let everyone in the HoF, but there is no reason there should be a line for induction if there are worthy players on the ballot. I think some of the voters probably do need to go, but they are also being handcuffed by some of these weird rules and that allows 2-3 worthy players to be left out every year.

Martin, one of them was a Veterans player, yes. Simply vote the worthy people in the HoF and move on with it. I would love to know why some of these guys don't vote for certain players. Not allowing them to justify their vote does a disservice to the fans. We want to know what percentage Carter got, who voted for him, who didn't vote for him and why. I don't think that's too much to ask.