By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
Editor’s Note: College Sports Journal is celebrating the release earlier this month of the ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame by offering several past articles in its CSJ Classic series. This piece was originally published on May 14, 2009 and chastised the National Football Foundation for failing to elect a Football Championship Subdivision player to the 2009 College Football Hall of Fame class. This piece created enough of a stir that FCS players were represented by the 2010 and 2011 Hall of Fame classes.
This story originally appeared on The Sports Network.
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — On the weekend of July 18-19, 24 players and coaches will walk through the doors of the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, IN, as the latest class of inductees.
Among those being honored will be former Heisman Trophy winners Tim Brown and Gino Torretta and a pair of Lombardi Award winners, Chris Spielman and Grant Wistrom, in a star-studded class.
From the coaching fraternity, USC’s John Robinson and former Massachusetts and Syracuse legend Dick MacPherson will be inducted. Joining them will be ex- Marshall and Georgia coach Jim Donnan, who led the Thundering Herd to the 1992 national championship and built that program into one of the best in history.
From the small school ranks, Fred Dean, Sam Mills and Roger Brown – all significant NFL performers – were selected as inductees.
But there was one rather conspicuous absence from this year’s class. Not one FCS player was named when the Hall of Fame announced the final group of honorees on Tuesday.
There were some rather spectacular snubs from the 2009 ballot.
Can anyone honestly tell me why Charles Haley wasn’t picked after a great career as a defensive lineman at James Madison, and an NFL career that earned him five Super Bowl rings with the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys?
Or how about McNeese State cornerback Leonard Smith, who excelled down in Lake Charles, LA, before becoming a Pro Bowler for the Buffalo Bills?
Northern Arizona’s Archie Amerson won the Walter Payton Award in 1996 by rushing for 2,079 yards and scoring 25 touchdowns before becoming a star with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL. But he didn’t get the Hall of Fame call either.
Other significant FCS players on the ballot included running back Carl Boyd of Northern Iowa, Marshall receiver Troy Brown and running back Chris Parker, quarterback Tom Ehrhardt of Rhode Island, Delaware defensive end Michael Renna and Lafayette linebacker Joe Skladany.
But none received enough support to become Hall of Famers.
When you look at the previous group of 829 players and 178 coaches who have been inducted since the National Football Foundation established the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951, you see few FCS players or coaches.
Even though the I-AA subdivision has completed 31 seasons since its formation in 1978, there are just 11 FCS players on the Hall of Fame roster.
That list includes just two Payton Award winners, Idaho quarterback John Friesz (1989) and Colgate running back Kenny Gamble (1987), and one Eddie Robinson Award recipient, Nevada’s Chris Ault (1991). Not one of the Buchanan Award winners has been selected to the Hall of Fame.
That meager roll call also includes Marshall tight end Mike Barber, running back Joe Delaney and defensive back Gary Reasons of Northwestern State, safety Kevin Dent of Jackson State, safety George Floyd of Eastern Kentucky, quarterback Tracy Ham of Georgia Southern, Nevada running back Frank Hawkins, all-around performer Gordie Lockbaum of Holy Cross and a pair of memorable quarterbacks – Neil Lomax of Portland State and Willie Totten of Mississippi Valley State.
FCS coaches are represented in the Hall of Fame by 13 members, including the newest inductee Donnan. Joining Ault and Donnan on this prestigious list are Earle Bruce, who had one year at Northern Iowa, Marino Casem of Alabama State, Alcorn State and Southern, Carmen Cozza of Yale, W.C. Gorden of Jackson State, Billy Joe of Florida A&M, Roy Kidd of Eastern Kentucky, John Merritt of Tennessee State, Darrell Mudra of Eastern Illinois and Northern Iowa, Doug Porter of Howard, Tubby Raymond of Delaware and Eddie Robinson of Grambling.
But even with this impressive group, it is important to note that one of the most successful coaches in FCS – Georgia Southern icon Erk Russell – hasn’t been invited.
Unless the rules are changed, or he gains consideration from the NFF’s veteran’s committee, Russell may never be inducted. One of just three FCS coaches to win a trio of NCAA championships, along with Appalachian State’s Jerry Moore and Jim Tressel of Youngstown State (who has four titles), Russell isn’t currently eligible because coaches must head programs for a minimum of 10 years with at least 100 wins.
Russell, previously a highly-decorated assistant coach at the University of Georgia, won his three national crowns in just eight years, with an overall 83-22-1 record as he started the Eagles’ program from scratch. If anyone deserves to be a Hall of Famer, it is Erk.
As a member of the Football Writers of America, I actually have a vote in the Hall of Fame election. NFF members also are among the voters.
But my membership has enabled me to see how the NFF treats FCS, Division II and III and NAIA as after-thoughts in the election process. The voluminous FBS ballot has pages of names, complete with brief biographies of all 76 players and six coaches.
There is a totally separate ballot for FCS players and coaches, who are lumped in with the Division II, III and NAIA athletes and coaches. The list I received did not include any biographical information of any of the 36 players listed as FCS, or the 61 other athletes. The same goes for the 29 coaches who were nominated.
Voters are asked to vote for two players and two coaches from each of these five categories.
Another interesting fact about the ballot is that a number of the players listed in the FCS section, such as UMass end Milt Morin and Tennessee Tech running back Larry Schreiber, competed either before the I-AA subdivision was established or before their teams were playing at this classification.
Another example of how the NFF downplays FCS and other levels of college football is the fact that it holds a splashy celebration in New York City to announce the new FBS Hall of Fame class, but announces the rest of the new class in a low-key press release a month later.
It’s kind of like inviting the small school guys into the back door of the house, so they won’t be noticed.
What all of this shows is that it is time for a change in the Hall of Fame nominating and voting procedures. It is an abomination that not one player from FCS was deemed worthy this year.
I suggest that the NFF form a new committee made of experts in the FCS, Division II and III and NAIA realms to nominate athletes and coaches and select a special group of qualified voters to consider those names. From each of the five categories, the voters would elect a minimum of two candidates into the Hall of Fame.
Once those athletes and coaches are chosen, honor them with those from FBS by announcing all of the candidates at one time.
With a great group of FCS players retiring from professional careers in the past few years and several others nearing that day, the ballot is about to be flooded with no-brainer Hall of Fame candidates like two-time Buchanan Award winner Dexter Coakley of Appalachian State (1995-96), Payton Award winners Steve McNair of Alcorn State (1994), Dave Dickenson of Montana (1995), Jamie Martin of Weber State (1991), Brian Finneran of Villanova (1997) and Jerry Azumah of New Hampshire (1999).
There is also an ex-player from Mississippi Valley State named Jerry Rice, who is waiting for his Hall of Fame call.
The time is ripe to ensure that these great players don’t have to wait until old age to get one final day in the sun. And it is past time for players like Haley, Smith, Amerson and others to get their due, too.