OPINION: No Hall of Fame—and It’s a Shame—for Worthy Dogs
It’s a shame Nick Chubb will not be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Never mind the distinguished Georgia tailback recently finished his career ranked second all time in the SEC in rushing yardage (4,769), while the other four players in the same category’s top five are either already in the Hall of Fame or assuredly will be. In addition, Chubb ranks third in the SEC in yards per rush (6.29) and fifth in rushing touchdowns (44), signifying he is currently the only individual who ranks in the top five in all three major rushing categories. Nevertheless, when Chubb would be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration in 10 years, as it currently stands, he simply won’t be considered—not even listed among roughly 175 former college players who annually appear on the ballot for induction.
Notably, members of the National Football Foundation (NFF) vote for candidates considered for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame and, in turn, the NFF's Honors Court selects the class—and, as is the case with other selection committees, politics are often involved regarding induction. Still, besides other worthy former players, Chubb isn’t even eligible to be a mere candidate because of the primary induction criterion of the NFF: First and foremost, a player must have received First Team All-America recognition by a selector recognized by the NCAA and utilized to comprise its consensus All-America teams.
Chubb won't be the only one snubbed.
The NFF has also implemented its “50-Year Rule” for Hall of Fame consideration. That is, “players must have played their last year of intercollegiate football within the last 50 years.”
Recently realizing the NFF’s inevitable snub of Chubb, I recalled a conversation I had a couple of years ago with Vince Dooley, a College Football Hall of Fame inductee in 1994. Unaware of the Hall’s induction criteria in its entirety, I asked Dooley what he thought of a possible push to get two former coaches he was quite familiar with—Erk Russell and his brother, Bill Dooley—considered for the Hall of Fame. He informed me that such efforts had been attempted before with strong support—but both were unsuccessful because of the NFF’s criteria for head coaches: He must have been a head coach for a minimum of 10 years and coached at least 100 games with a .600 winning percentage.
As many of you are aware, Erk Russell revived a dormant Georgia Southern football program in the early 1980s after serving as Georgia’s acclaimed defensive coordinator under Vince Dooley for 17 seasons. By only his fourth season as head coach of the Eagles, Russell had miraculously captured a Division I-AA national championship—and over the next four seasons, he would win two more national titles. For his career, he had a sparkling .788 winning percentage in 106 games, yet is not eligible for Hall of Fame consideration because he was a head coach for only eight years.
The late Bill Dooley, who was an assistant at Georgia under older brother Vince from 1964-1966, essentially turned around three programs which were struggling at the time of his hire: North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest. He was a head coach for nearly 300 games in 26 seasons; however, he too evidently cannot be considered because his career winning percentage (.561) falls below the .600 requirement.
I understand why protocol, even when questionable, is in place. For instance, a lack of consistently applied criteria is a reason why other athletic halls of fame may seem to be oversaturated with members. The College Football Hall of Fame should consist of only the best of the best players and coaches in the game, and if certain criteria, as long as they are reasonable and unwavering, must be applied to maintain its exclusivity, then so be it. Regarding player induction, NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell stated, “The Hall’s requirement of being a First-Team All-American creates a much smaller pool of only 1,500 individuals who are even eligible. So being in today’s elite group means an individual is truly among the greatest to ever have played the game.”
As mentioned, it’s the requirement of having been a First Team All-American which will keep Georgia’s Chubb out of the Hall of Fame. Although, upon further research, Georgia’s Fran Tarkenton and Ole Miss’ Archie Manning were not chosen First Team All-American by an NCAA-recognized selector, yet both players are in the Hall, inducted in 1987 and 1989, respectively. Notwithstanding, according to the NFF, the provision of the First Team All-American status was not added until 1990, and has remained since.
This is not to say Tarkenton and Manning (nor any other player/coach cited henceforth) did not deserve induction. However, if the induction criteria were then what it is now, the two standout SEC quarterbacks from yesteryear would be in the same boat as Chubb. Instead, Tarkenton and especially Manning (by one year), who ironically has served as NFF Chairman since 2007, eked into the Hall of Fame, as the late legendary Larry Munson would say, “by the skin of a toothbrush.”
Another former SEC great in the Hall of Fame, Steve Meilinger was an end at Kentucky during the early 1950s. He was a two-time First Team All-American but was enshrined in 2013, or 60 years after his final year of playing college football, meaning he did not meet the NFF’s “50-Year Rule” requirement when inducted. Be that as it may, Meilinger evidently was a “unique case” as, according to the NFF, “Those players that do not comply with the 50-year rule may still be eligible for consideration by the FBS and Divisional Veterans Committees, which examine unique cases.”
Similarly, I found that long-time head coaches Grant Teaff, Hayden Fry, George Welsh, and Gene Stallings (among others), like Bill Dooley, did not meet the requirement of a .600 career winning percentage, although they became Hall of Famers in 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2010, respectively, as, again, “unique cases.” According to the NFF, coaches who did not achieve a .600 winning percentage “may still be eligible for consideration by the FBS and Divisional Veterans Committees, which examine unique cases.”
Accordingly, a head coach who doesn’t meet one of the three primary requirements for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame can still be enshrined as a “unique case” if the requirement not met is curiously a .600 winning percentage. Therefore, it appears there is a glimmer of hope for Bill Dooley to eventually be inducted as a unique case, whereas one of the most unique coaches in the history of the sport, Erk Russell, cannot be considered and, as a result, will not be enshrined into the Hall of Fame.
For former players, it’s a little simpler: Whether within 50 years of a playing career, or afterwards as a “unique case,” First Team All-American status could lead to being inducted into the Hall—and there are no exceptions for even mere consideration, that is unless you happened to be considered before 1990. Therefore, former greats like Notre Dame’s Joe Montana, Chuck Ealey, who was 35-0 as a starting quarterback for Toledo and finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1971 (but wasn’t named First Team All-American by an NCAA-recognized selector), Georgia’s Aaron Murray, who is currently the SEC’s all-time leader in career passing completions, yardage, and touchdowns, and, of course, Nick Chubb, to only name a few, aren’t even remote possibilities for the Hall of Fame—and it’s a shame.
Of course, the NFF could eventually decide again to add to or change its criteria—alter the induction requirements which have not been applied in a consistent manner. Meanwhile, some individuals “truly among the greatest to ever have played (or coached) the game” will continue to be unjustly ignored.