By VINCENT LOSPINUSO
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Vincent Lospinuso is a freshman at Hofstra University, majoring in broadcast journalism with an emphasis on sports media. He not only is an avid sports fan but someone who has a keen interest in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and who one day would like to be a voter. He asked if he could share his thoughts on the senior pool with us, and we agreed. Here, then, is a different perspective on how to address a problem that won’t go away.)
Like others, I am concerned about the long line of deserving senior candidates who have such a difficult time reaching the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So I would like to suggest some improvements and suggestions to give them a fairer shot.
The pool would be completely reworked and the players divided into four different sections, each section involving the eras that marked most of the player’s career — or, in some instances, his best seasons, similar to how it’s done now in baseball’s Hall.
For example, it might involve …
— Pre-modern era (1920-49)
— Merger era (1950-79)
— AFL (its entire run, 1960-69)
— Football today (1980-present)
As with baseball, ballots would alternate by the era on a year-to-year basis. For example, let’s say in 2021, the pool goes to the “today era,” and then in 2022 it goes to the “merger era.” That process would continue until 2025 when the pool would start all over again, returning to the “today era.”
Another path would be to have two different eras per year that alternate. So you would have something like, say, the “today” and “AFL” eras in 2021 and then the “merger” and “pre-modern” eras in 2022. After this, they could either repeat the same process or mix it up with four eras, however the Hall might choose.
But instead of having a small, fixed number such as one or two finalists each year, the senior committee would come up with something like four to six qualified candidates from the selected era that year. If the committee uses only one era per year, make the total number larger. But if it decides on separate eras, choose a smaller number for each — six in total if it’s one; four each (meaning a total of eight) if it chooses two eras, though that number could fluctuate.
Perhaps the Hall would benefit from another section, too, apart from the senior and contributor categories. And that would be a section dedicated to coaches … and it would include not only head coaches but assistants, as well. I believe this is necessary because, like the seniors, there are so many deserving coaches who are currently not in Canton. Furthermore, all of the eligible coaches are dumped into modern-era ballots with players, which leads to many passed over in favor of players within the same ballot.
Like the players, coaches would have to wait five years after retirement to be eligible. However, in my vision, they would have their own section and would be selected by a separate coaches’ committee, akin to the senior and contributor committees we have now.
The pattern may resemble …
Year A — One coach, two contributors.
Year B — Two coaches, one contributor, with the cycle repeating itself afterward.
Once the senior committee chooses its finalists and the contributor and coaches’ committees choose their three candidates, all would be voted on in February, as it is done now. With more finalists, of course, there would be more deliberation and case making. The regular modern-era ballot would be the same as now, with the list cut first to 10 and then to five — with an 80 percent vote required.
For the coaches and contributors, it would be nearly identical to how the current senior and contributor ballots are tabulated — three small index cards, with voters checking “Yes” or “No” on candidates. And, as it is today, 80 percent approval would be required.
Finally, there is my re-imagination of the senior ballot. Like the modern-era finalists, senior candidates would be on a single sheet of paper. But, unlike the modern-era finalists, there would be only one check mark to fill. Voters might have to choose from, say, six senior finalists from the era the Hall is honoring that year, and name their four best.
Let’s say, for instance, that the focus is on “merger-era” players, and that these are the choices:
— Alan Ameche (FB)
— Alex Karras (DT)
— Tommy Nobis (LB)
— Drew Pearson (WR)
— L.C. Greenwood (DE)
— Randy Gradishar (LB)
Essentially, you would be able to choose four of those six, which means there would be a maximum of four seniors to gain busts. If, however, none of them gained the required number of votes needed for election, you might be able to choose the one who had the most votes.
In total, under my idea, the maximum number of people in each Hall-of-Fame class would be 13 — with the modern-era class increased from five to six, four seniors, one or two coaches and one or two contributors — with numbers for the last two categories alternating by years. If, however, there is no senior candidate chosen, those persons would return to the pool and remain eligible for election when their era is up for election again. And they can be nominated as many times as selectors vote.
One more thing: If that’s too drastic, reach for a compromise. Make the maximum 10 by keeping the modern-era class at five, reducing the seniors to three and including two contributors and/or coaches. Bottom line: Do what you can to push more qualified seniors through a process that has not.