Bob Smizik : Pro Football HOF voting flawed

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At some time beginning early this morning and for what could be a large part of the day, the 46 men and women who comprise the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee will deliberate on what players will be enshrined as part of the class of 2014.

The selectors, as they’re known, come from across the media spectrum -- newspapers, Internet, television, radio, magazines. Some are relatively new to the process. Many have been voting for decades. The esteemed Ed Pope of Miami has been voting, I’m guessing, since the 1960s. As near as I can tell, all are expert in the area of pro football and truly dedicated to this task.

Which leads to this question: Why does it take so long?

Surely, experts, with months to study, could walk into the meeting, cast their vote with a minimum of discussion and go about whatever other business or pleasure brought them to the site of the Super Bowl, where the selection process takes place every year. But yet it has been known to take up to eight hours to elect a class.

It is interesting that the two sports halls of fame that attract the most public attention conduct their voting in diametrically opposite styles.

The Baseball Hall of Fame electorate resembles a democracy. Some 600 senior members of the Baseball Writers Association of America vote by mail. There is little internal discussion and none of it organized. Like many votes in the democracy known as the United States of America, the outcome often seems illogical and even wrong. But it works pretty well.

The Pro Football HOF vote is the antithesis of a democracy. It is the quintessential smoke-filled backroom. This is not to doubt the integrity or sincerity of the voters. I’ve yet to know one who didn’t take this privilege with the utmost respect and professionalism. But like any proverbial smoke-filled backroom, the results can be brought into question.

Writing at SI.com, Robert Klemko partially opened the door of the HOF deliberations and came forth with what could be disappointing news for football fans. I linked it here because I’ve always believed the same, which is this: For some candidates, it’s not necessarily how well they played on the field but how well their performance was orally defined in that meeting room. That’s wrong.

For example, last season, two truly outstanding defensive linemen were on the ballot, Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan. Since Sapp played most of his career for Tampa Bay, his presenter was Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune. Kaufman apparently did a good job. After the voting, in a rare breach of secrecy, Jason Cole, who writes for Yahoo! Sports, was quoted as saying, “In the battle between Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan, Ira Kaufman made the difference.”

Congrats to Kaufman and shame on the voters if their minds were made up by the words of Kaufman rather than the deeds of the two players.

I simply do not get this voting process. I understand it is more difficult to evaluate some football players than baseball players. The convincing statistical evidence that makes it easier to evaluate baseball players simply is not there for some football players. How do you evaluate an offensive tackle?

The daunting task of making the final decision should not fall to the verbal skills of a player's ‘presenter.’ Over the years it has been pretty much made known that the ‘presenter’ can play a key role in getting ‘his’ player elected. That’s wrong because all presenters are not the same. Some are more skilled orators, others are more greatly respected within the room.

The selectors might be better served by relying more heavily on their own expert knowledge rather than being swayed by a presenter, who could be biased. This process is well overdone and way too long. Let the experts be experts and the process should be done by lunchtime -- as, I might add, it once was.

The class of 2014 will be announced tonight. The process may be badly flawed, but the voters have a good to excellent history of getting it right. For the players involved, hopefully that’s true again this year.


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