Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The AFL needs a real Hall of Fame

The AFL Hall of Fame is, to be perfectly frank, a joke. Does anyone actually know it exists? Is there an actual hall? I tried to find out, but the best I can get from the web is that it may be located in the National Sports Museum in Melbourne.

Does anyone know how the players are selected? A committee of I’m not sure how many decides. If that isn’t pathetic then I don’t know what is. A committee? What a joke.

In America the sports halls of fame are massive. In Major League Baseball and the NFL you only need to say a player is headed to Cooperstown or Canton, and the sport public knows that means they’re headed to the Hall of Fame.

The induction days are huge affairs with speeches made at the respective halls in front of the public, not in front of a load of invited guests at the Crown casino.

During games commentators will refer to players as “future Hall of Famer...”. In the AFL the best they do is call someone “one of the superstars of the game”, or once they have retired “an ornament to the game”.

The situation really needs fixing. First off, the AFL needs to build a freaking Hall! (And if they have already, how about advertising the fact!). It should be like the war memorial for footy. It should be a step back in time. It should be a place full of reverence for the game. It should damn well be a tourist attraction!

[UPDATE someone told my wife today they had recently been to the AFL Hall of Fame which is in the National Sports Museum attached to the MCG. They said it was great. The fact that I haven't even heard of this place despite really wanting to go to such a museum, suggests to me the AFL really needs to work on its marketing]

But to really get some credibility they have to ditch the committee system. In Major League Baseball, players are voted into the Hall of Fame by an organisation known as the “Baseball Writers Association of America” (BBWAA) which consists of journalists from newspapers, magazines and a few from the web.

Each year they vote on the eligible players. Any player who gets voted by over 75% of the voters gets in. Less than 5% and you’re gone. If a player doesn’t get 75% he goes on the ballot the following year (and can stay on the ballot for up to 15 years after which time if they haven’t got over 75% they’re dumped).

The system is thus relatively open, and everyone knows who is being considered. The votes are revealed, and everyone gets to talk about who missed out, who made it and why etc etc. It’s great for baseball and would be great for the AFL – imagine if every October the week after the Grand Final there was the vote for the Hall of Fame. If would have the radio talk shows and newspapers still full of AFL news – surely something the AFL would like.

Now you need a good sample of voters, and there aren’t enough AFL writers in Australia, so I propose the Hall of Fame voters become more like the Academy Awards voters. So the people who get to vote are:

  • all living members of the Hall of Fame,
  • any coach who has coached over 150 games in the AFL
  • any umpire with over 250 games
  • 5 members from each of the TV networks (including Foxtel – it is up to the network to nominate who – must not be eligible players)
  • 3 writers from each of the major newspapers in the capital cities (must not be eligible players)
  • 3 commentators/journos from each of the radio stations with broadcasting rights (must not be eligible players)
  • 5 officials from the AFL
  • 3 officials each from the state based comps
  • the chairman and a selected board member from each AFL club

That should get the number up near 100. Also those nominated by the media organisations or clubs are that organisation's nominee until that person no longer works for or is associated with the organisation – ie you can’t change it every year – we want some continuity.

Now to the ballot. Those eligible for nomination are any player who has not been on an AFL list for 3 years and who has played at least 50 premiership games. I would have gone for 100 games, but given John Coleman only played 98, I figure you have to take account of the freaks of the sport.

Best of all that would mean the ballot would throw up a few names that people would have forgotten which would produce more discussion – “geez Lance Piccione played 58 games for Hawthorn?” It would also ensure a pretty healthy ballot each year – not much point doing it if you only get 3 names to choose from.

Voters would only be able to pick 4 names (though they may pick less or even none) – you gotta make it hard. And players would need to be picked on at least 75% of the ballots to get in.
Would it work? I think so. It sure beats the hell out of a dozen old farts sitting around a boardroom deciding whether or not to induct Gary Ablett or Wayne Carey. In this process it would be up to the voters – if more than 75% think he should be voted in in the first year he was eligible, well then in he goes.

Voters for these things don’t need to sit around a room to take into account “other issues” and come to some sort of bogus consensus. If you look at the vote for the MLB Hall of Fame last year, Mark McGwire was eligible and normally would have got in without any problems. But because of all the steroid scandals he only got 23.6% of the vote. (And you know what – the vote and the results generated heaps of media).

At the moment people on the committee are all cagey about whether or not they agreed with the decision, was so and so considered etc. With this system, none of that. A person can say I voted for Joe Blog and say why (if they want) and there is no right or wrong. If a player gets the votes, he’s in, and if he gets less than 5% he's out. It’s democratic, and I think it’s a winner.

And look you could keep a committee to consider every other year voting in two players who have missed out in the process - ie those from the pre-AFL days and the SANFL/WAFL etc. It would be up to them to work out why Gary McIntosh is not in the Hall of Fame and yet Gavin Brown is...

I would also have the committee decide on 10 or 15 names each year to go on the ballot from post AFL time (ie 1990) who have played 100 games but who have not yet been put in the Hall - so you would get guys like Ang Christou, Shaun Rehn and Paul Couch on the ballot.

Sure many would not be likely to get voted in, but you don't think that would throw up some good discussions? Like would Rehn have got in the Hall of Fame if he hadn't been injured for two years? He missed around 40 games of his prime, which would have had his total up near 220 games. What about Paul Couch? Should he be in the Hall - he did win the Brownlow Medal in 1989 - should that be enough??

Don't know about you, but I hear the talk back calls ringing in loud and long.

And even if they don't get in, surely the AFL Hall of Fame should have some mention of Christou and the "woof", or that Rehn got the centre bounce disc removed. It's called history, and it would be a great thing to see.

And that is what the Hall of Fame should be about - getting the public thinking about footy, and remembering players and games from the past. What about Roger Merrett? The guy played 313 games, two premierships and was for many a year the heart and soul of the Brisbane Bears. Should he be in the Hall?

Surely the guy deserves at least to be on a ballot!

So enough of the system. Tomorrow I’ll get to the fun part – deciding who should be in the Hall. I’ll have a look at all current players in the AFL with over 50 games and decide who would get my vote.

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