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Erk Russell, the College Football Hall of Fame, and Figuring Out Another Way to Skin This Cat

Earlier today, the National Football Foundation announced the 2011 divisional class slated for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. The divisional class consists of coaches and players from the NAIA, Division I-AA, Division II, and Division III; it was into this class that we tried (and failed) to get Erk Russell admitted last year.

This year’s divisional class consists of four players and two coaches, Mike Kelly of Dayton and Bill Manlove of Widener, Delaware Valley, and La Salle. For the record, Coach Russell’s .788 winning percentage at Georgia Southern was significantly superior to Coach Manlove’s career clip of .655 and only slightly behind Coach Kelly’s .819 rate of return. (This is not to say that Coaches Kelly and Manlove do not deserve induction, only that Coach Russell does.)

Among the four players in the 2011 class is the late Mickey Kobrosky, a three-sport athlete who played at Connecticut’s Trinity College in the 1930s, twice earning first-team All-American honors. Kobrosky passed away eight years ago, at the age of 88, and was selected for inclusion in the Hall of Fame class by the Divisional Veterans Committee.

The involvement of the Veterans Committee was necessary because Kobrosky played so long ago. As the National Football Foundation’s website explains:

Hall of Fame Criteria:

  2. A player becomes eligible for consideration by the NFF's Honors Court ten years after his last year of intercollegiate football played.
  3. While each nominee's football achievements in college are of prime consideration, his post-football record as a citizen is also weighed. He must have proven himself worthy as a citizen, carrying the ideals of football forward into his relations with his community. Consideration may also be given for academic honors and whether or not the candidate earned a college degree.
  4. In accordance to the 50-year rule*, players must have played their last year of intercollegiate football within the last 50 years. For example, to be eligible for the 2011 ballot, the player must have played his last year in 1961 or thereafter. In addition, current professional players and / or coaches are not eligible until retirement.
  5. A coach becomes eligible three years after retirement or immediately following retirement provided he is at least 70 years old. Active coaches become eligible at 75 years of age. He must have been a head coach for a minimum of 10 years and coached at least 100 games with a .600 winning percentage*.

* Those players that do not comply with the 50-year rule and coaches that have not won 60% of their games may still be eligible for consideration by the FBS (formerly Division I-A) and Divisional Veterans Committees, which examine unique cases.

This, to me, is maddening. The implication of the italicized note (to which they, and not I, have added emphasis) is that, because the Veterans Committees may consider players (like Kobrosky) who played outside the 50-year period and coaches with winning percentages below .600, the Veterans Committees may not consider, e.g., players who never received first-team All-American recognition or coaches who were head coaches for less than a decade.

More maddening still is the requirement that a candidate "have been a head coach for a minimum of 10 years and coached at least 100 games." This time, the emphasis is mine, as is the frustration: Coach Russell went 83-22-1---that is, he coached 106 games---in under a decade. (Winning three national championships in a playoff system will do that for a fellow.) If the rule mandated that a nominee "have been a head coach for a minimum of 10 years or coached at least 100 games," Coach Russell would have been inducted into the Hall of Fame in his lifetime, but, because he did his winning too quickly for the NFF’s liking, he remains on the outside looking in, even though everyone agrees he deserves to be enshrined.

A simple rule change to allow the Veterans Committees to "examine unique cases" in all instances of deviation from the established (and generally sound) criteria would suffice to get Coach Russell’s name into consideration, which, frankly, is all that needs to happen to get him into the Hall where he belongs.

My earlier inquiry into the process for initiating a change to the rules met with no response, and, since then, I have allowed my NFF membership to lapse. I am in the process of renewing my membership---the check quite literally will be in the mail by the weekend---but, in the meantime, I’m not sure which way to go. The membership of the Veterans Committees is kept private to prevent them from being lobbied by, well, folks like me. Here is the contact list for the NFF. Of the folks whose e-mail addresses are provided, which one seems like the proper person to contact to see what we can start?