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Art Modell on trial: Inside the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection process

Feb 02, 2013 -- 6:00am

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By Tony Grossi

NEW ORLEANS

The Morning Kickoff …

On to business: Art Modell’s candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame is in the hands of 46 selectors that annually debates the 17 finalists on this day before the Super Bowl. It will take ten votes to keep him from induction.

The selection meeting, which begins at 9 a.m. Eastern time in adjoining conference rooms in the New Orleans Convention Center, has stretched for more than seven hours in recent years. That duration would press it close to the start of the announcement show on NFL Network. That show will go on the air as scheduled at 5:30 p.m., but there is no guarantee the debating, arguing and voting will be wrapped up by then. If not, the NFL Network commentators will struggle to fill the air time.

How can this process take so long? Here is why.

A thorough review: There are 17 candidates – 15 from the modern era and senior candidates Curley Culp and Dave Robinson, who were advanced by the Hall’s senior committee last August. Each of the 17 receives a thorough discussion before any vote takes place.

The two senior candidates are presented first. After their presentations, selectors vote on each candidate individually. Selectors are given a paper ballot with Culp’s name and asked to mark “yes” or “no.” About a dozen accountants from Deloitte & Touche then enter the room to collect the ballots. They leave to count and verify the ballots. Selectors then vote on Robinson, “yes” or “no.” The accountants come in to collect those ballots, and then leave.

The presentations of the modern era candidates then begin. The order of candidates is pre-selected randomly by position.

This year, offensive linemen are first and are presented in alphabetical order (Larry Allen, Jonathan Ogden, Will Shields). They will be followed by coach (Bill Parcells), running back (Jerome Bettis), defensive back (Aeneas Williams), linebacker (Kevin Greene), wide receivers (Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Andre Reed), contributors (Eddie DeBartolo Jr., Art Modell) and defensive linemen (Charles Haley, Warren Sapp, Michael Strahan).

The selectors sit at rectangular tables arranged in a very large square, so that they all face each other. The meeting is moderated by Steve Perry, executive director of the Hall of Fame. Other Hall officials are present, but generally don’t speak except during breaks.

The discussion of each candidate is opened by the selector from the geographical region in which the candidate was active a major portion of his pro football career. The “presenter” of the discussion is passed a cordless microphone and may sit or stand. The presenter does not necessarily have to endorse the candidate, but that is usually the case. There is no time limit on how long the presenter may speak. Some presenters have taken to passing out written material to illustrate their points.

After the opening presentation, a free discussion ensues among the selectors who want to say anything about the candidate. Questions are asked, points are clarified, testimonials are given. Perry calls on those wanting to speak and microphones are passed.

One of the Hall's by-laws states that each selector shall "hold in strictest confidence all opinions expressed by Selectors duing the annual meeting regarding the qualifications of the nominees." This is to ensure an honest discussion -- positively or negatively -- on the candidates. Some of these discussions are brief, consisting of five minutes or fewer. Others go much longer. I believe the longest discussion of a single candidate in my 13 years on the committee stretched for 61 minutes.

When the discussion is over, Perry turns to the next candidate and the process is repeated.

Modell’s discussion will be initiated by the Baltimore selector, Scott Garceau of WMAR-TV in Baltimore. I will then give my take. I will read from a three-page speech I prepared in the last week. It is slightly different from the one I delivered in 2002. Some selectors present their candidates without notes or a written text. I do not.

The voting: After the 17th and last presentation, Perry commences the voting. Each selector has a pre-printed ballot of the 15 modern era candidates. The first vote is to cut the list to 10. After voters check mark 10 names on their ballots, the accountants march in and collect them.

After a break, the accountants march back in and Perry reads the results. No numbers are ever revealed, only the names of the top 10 vote-getters. At this point, Perry re-opens discussion. Selectors are able to issue brief comments on each candidate – partly because so much time has elapsed since the original discussions.

Perry then asks the selectors to check mark five names on their ballots. The accountants re-enter and collect the ballots. After a break, they return. Perry then reveals the final five candidates. The voting is not finished.

Each candidate then is voted on individually -- “yes” or “no.” Each ballot is collected before the next candidate is voted on.

After the last vote, the meeting is adjourned. The accountants count the ballots in another closed meeting room. Each candidate must receive 80 percent of the vote – 35 “yes” votes of the 43 in attendance – to gain induction. That’s why reaching the final five does not guarantee induction.

Nobody knows the final results – not the selectors, not the Hall of Fame officials – until Perry opens the envelope and reads them live on the announcement show. Then the public debate ensues about who was left out and why. It’s never easy to cut 15 to five.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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