CANTON, Ohio – The long rumored “Centennial Class’’ of the Pro Football Hall of Fame became official Friday when the Hall’s Board of Trustees approved a one-time change in the voting by-laws to allow a class of 20 inductees next year -- a class that will include 10 seniors, five modern era finalists, three contributors and two coaches.
Now the fun – and the agony – is about to begin.
The five modern-era players will be debated and voted on as usual, but the 48 selectors will also be asked for an up-or-down vote on the entire slate of 15 seniors, contributors and coaches, with 10 no votes enough to kill the entire Centennial Class.
Normally each modern-era candidate is voted on separately, with reduction votes from the preliminary list to 25 and then15 finalists. Those final 15 are then individually discussed on the day before the Super Bowl, and reduction votes are reduced the final five (plus ties).
That final group is voted individually with a simple up-or-down vote. To be enshrined a voter must receive 80 percent approval, the highest of any sports Hall of Fame in the country.
But the board’s decision to ask for one up-or-down vote for the full slate of seniors, contributors and coaches surprised some voters and worried others. A more workable solution, some feel, would have been separate up-or-down votes on each category if a departure from the usual practice was deemed too unwieldy.
Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker said a “blue ribbon committee’’ would meet several times either by phone or in person during the year to pare the preliminary list of potential candidates down to the final 15 which will be presented to the full committee on the eve of next year’s Super Bowl.
That committee will be composed of Hall of Fame selectors, Pro Football Hall of Famers, media members, football historians and industry experts. A tentative timeline for the election process by the panel includes the compilation of a what the Hall calls "a comprehensive list" of nominated seniors, contributors and coaches by no later than September.
A reduction vote by the panel to 20 seniors, 10 contributors and eight Coaches will be announced in the fall. The special panel will then meet in person to reduce the list to the final 10 seniors, three contributors and two coaches.
That final slate of 15 will be voted on as one singular unit by the Hall’s full 48-person selection committee when the group meets on “Selection Saturday” on Feb. 1, 2020, in Miami on the eve of Super Bowl LIV.
Like all individual candidates, the Centennial slate will need to receive a minimum positive vote of 80 percent to earn election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Centennial Class will be formally enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame during the annual Enshrinement Ceremony and the Centennial Celebration in Canton in September 2020.
“They will be given enmasse to our selectors,’’ Baker said.
Baker hinted some of the new class of enshrinees would be part of a second celebration around Sept. 17, 2020. The fateful meeting at Hubmobile in Canton that created the NFL occurred on Sept. 17, 1920.
“It will be a very stellar group,’’ Baker said of the "Blue Ribbon committee," whose makeup was not announced. “I anticipate there will be several days of meetings.
"People have been enormously receptive to this. A lot of people feel this is an opportunity to catch up on some injustices. This is being driven mostly by history.
"Those 10 seniors are very important. The three contributors who helped build the game are very important. I’m very convinced (the 48 Hall voters) don’t believe anyone will make it who shouldn’t be here.’’
Baker pointed out, for example, that there are seven first ballot all-decade players presently residing in the senior pool, but only one -- former Dallas safety Cliff Harris -- was a Hall-of-Fame finalist … and that happened just once (2004).