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The Hall of Fame receives nominations but does not make them. Any person, including the 48 elite members of the Selection Committee, may nominate any eligible players, coaches or contributors.
A nomination is NOT a vote for election. The Hall of Fame’s Selection Process includes multiple steps in which the nominees are scrutinized. The Hall facilitates the procedure of three successive reviews of increasing scrutiny with the 48-person Selection Committee. The first is a vote to reduce the long list of Modern-Era Nominees (typically around 100) to 25 Semifinalists, followed by a later vote to reduce to 15 Finalists. At the annual meeting on “Selection Saturday," the Finalists are scrutinized even further by the Selectors, who after a thorough discussion of each Finalist, reduce the list from 15 to 10 and then 10 to 5. At that point, the five remaining Finalists are voted on for election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on a yes or no basis. A minimum positive vote of 80 percent is necessary for election.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame's 48-person Selection Committee is charged with the vital task of continuing to ensure that new enshrinees are the finest the game has produced. [Pro Football Hall of Fame's Selection Process/List of Selection Committee members]
The Committee consists of one media representative from each pro football city — with two from New York and two from Los Angeles, as those cities each have two teams in the National Football League. There are 16 at-large Selectors, who are active members of the media or persons intricately involved in professional football, including one representative of the Pro Football Writers of America. All appointments are open-ended and approved annually by a majority vote of the Hall of Fame's Board of Trustees.
The Selection Committee meets annually on the Saturday before the Super Bowl to elect new members of the Hall of Fame. There is no set number of new enshrinees, but the Committee’s current ground rules do stipulate that between four and eight new members will be selected each year. Every candidate is thoroughly reviewed and must receive approval from at least 80 percent of the full Committee to be elected.
Any fan may nominate any player, coach or contributor who has been connected with pro football simply by writing to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The only restriction is that a player and coach must have been retired at least five years before he can be considered. There is no mandatory retirement period for a contributor before he may be considered. Every nomination of an eligible candidate received will be processed and forwarded to the Hall of Fame’s Selection Committee.
Each year, the Selection Committee will be polled three times before the Final List of Modern-Era Preliminary Nominees is determined. The Initial Preliminary List of nominations is compiled and sent to the Hall of Fame’s Selection Committee by March 1. The list is provided so that the Selectors can study the nominees and then request the addition of any other candidates that may have been overlooked. Included on this list are first-time eligible candidates who have strong enough credentials to give them even a remote chance of eventual Hall of Fame election. Also included are all other eligible candidates nominated by any person. Additionally, those Modern-Era nominees from the previous year’s final preliminary list who received at least four votes in the balloting to determine the Modern-Era Finalists are automatically included on this preliminary list.
The Second Preliminary List is sent to the Selectors during the month of July and includes all the nominees named on the initial list plus any additional nominations received from any source since the first list was compiled.
The Third Preliminary List of eligible candidates is sent to the Selection Committee during the month of September for the purpose of the selection of the Modern-Era Semifinalists for election. From the Third Preliminary List the Selection Committee is asked to vote for 25 Modern-Era Nominees who become Semifinalists for election.
The Final Preliminary List of 25 Modern-Era nominees plus all ties (if any) for the twenty fifth position shall be distributed to the Selection Committee during the month of November for the purpose of the selection of 15 Modern-Era Nominees. The 16th, 17th, and 18th finalists are the recommended candidates of the Coach, Contributor and Senior Committees.
In advance of the Hall of Fame Selection Meeting in February, the Selectors are provided detailed biographies on each of the 18 Finalists. At the annual meeting on "Selection Saturday," each finalist is thoroughly discussed by the committee before a series of reduction votes are taken. First, the Coach, Contributor and Senior Finalists are discussed and voted on for election. They must receive the same 80 percent affirmative vote as the Modern-Era Finalists. Next, there is a vote that reduces the Modern-Era Finalists list from 15 to 10. Following that, a vote is taken to reduce the list from 10 to 5 names. The five remaining Modern-Era Finalists for Hall of Fame election are then voted on individually (yes or no) for membership.
In order to be elected, a Finalist must receive a minimum of 80 percent of the vote. All ballots are collected and counted by an accounting firm. No vote totals are announced – only the winners of the various reduction ballots are revealed to the Selectors and the Hall’s representatives.
To assure that older players, whose active careers have been completed at least 25 years, as well as coaches, who have not coached in at least five years, and those individuals who contributed to the game in ways other than playing and coaching, will be considered along with the Modern-Era candidates, a Coach/Senior Committee and a Contributor Committee, have been established. Each of these committees are made up of nine veteran members of the overall Selection Committee.
Like the full Committee, the members of the Coach/Seniors Committee and the Contributor Committee are provided a preliminary list of eligible nominees. The list, which is compiled and mailed to the Selectors, includes carry-over nominations from the previous year, first-time eligible candidates, and nominations from any outside source.
By way of a mail ballot, the Coach/Senior Committee members are polled once before the final lists of nominees are determined. The Contributor Committee follows the same protocol to reduce the list of nominees. Five members of the nine-man Coach/Senior Committee, selected on a rotating basis, are designated to attend the annual Coach/Senior Committee meeting held in Canton, where they are charged with the responsibility of nominating Finalists from those lists to be among the 18 finalists for Hall of Fame election. The same procedure is followed by the Contributor Committee who also meet annually in Canton.
In advance of both meetings, each Selector is provided with detailed biographical information on the candidates.
Coach/Senior Committee members are assisted during their annual meeting by two consultants, chosen by the Hall’s President, who were contemporaries of the majority of the nominees. The consultants offer only their opinions and are not entitled to vote. After each candidate is discussed thoroughly, the consultants are excused from the meeting. Additional discussion is conducted followed by a series of reduction votes that results in the naming of a Coach Finalist and Senior Finalist.
Contributor Committee members are also assisted during their annual meeting by two consultants and follow the same guidelines as described above for the Coach/Senior Committee consultants.
Although the Coach, Contributor and Senior Nominees will be presented to the full Selection Committee as Finalists, their election to the Hall of Fame is not automatic. The Coach, Contributor and Senior Nominees must receive the same minimum 80 percent of the vote as a Modern-Era Finalists to be elected.
Obviously, teams take great pride in the accomplishments of individuals who have been a part of their organization. Often, individual teams and even the Hall of Fame will list enshrinees according to the team or teams on which they spent a significant period of time. An enshrinee, however, is not asked to “declare,” nor does the Hall of Fame “choose” a team under which a new member is enshrined. When elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, an individual is recognized for accomplishments as a player, coach, or contributor.