By Jeff Kassouf
It might just be time for the National Soccer Hall of Fame to take a second look at how their voting system works. After the most well-attended induction ceremony ever in 2007, the 2008 induction class includes zero players.
According to the election stipulations, a player must be retired at least three years but no longer than ten to be eligible. After that, they must have played in at least 20 international games for the United States or five years in an American first-division league with a championship or all-star selection, leaving many very worthy candidates out there at the moment.
In order to be inducted, a player must be on 75% of the 128 ballots cast. This year, every player received less than 68% of the votes, leaving legends such as Preki, Joy Fawcett, Thomas Dooley, Jeff Agoos, and Marco Etcheverry on the short end of the stick.
So, when the induction ceremony rolls around this year, fans will not be cheering on another large group of American greats like last year, but will witness the induction of veteran Hugo Perez and Coach Anson Dorrance (Perez is not considered a player since he has been retired over ten years).
In no way should the accomplishments of these two men be downplayed. Dorrance still sits at the helm of arguably the greatest college athletics dynasty ever, having led the University of North Carolina’s women’s soccer program to 19 national championships in 29 seasons. Hugo Perez played in various different American first-divisions, and registered 76 caps for the United States national team.
However, even with the accomplishments of these two men, the ballot is incomplete. The typical hall of fame induction for any sport in this country usually involves at least four inductees. Even disregarding that fact, Preki, Fawcett, and everyone else on the outside looking in did not miss out on getting inducted because someone more deserving was elected in front of them. They simply fell short of the votes needed, as everyone else did this year. Certainly, this did not happen because they are unworthy, but rather the difference in opinions among voters was too great.
Those in charge at the National Soccer Hall of Fame cannot be expected to bend the rules because of this unfortunate event, but they can certainly improve the situation to make sure that it does not happen again. The requirements for eligibility are perfectly fair, but what about that iron-clad rule that a player must be on 75% of the ballots cast?
When parody rules an election for a given year, a situation such as the one faced this year arises, where several players receive almost enough votes, but none of them achieve the threshold of 75%. Executives in Oneonta, NY should install a loophole that states that if no players reach the three-quarters of the vote milestone, the top two vote getters are inducted. This way, there are no more ballots such as this that leave deserving players sitting at home because of parody.
Had this system been in place this year, Preki and Joy Fawcett would have been added to the Hall of Fame ballot, clearly showing that the rule change would not open up a door for undeserving players to become hall of famers. Really, the situation is a win-win for everyone. Players will get inducted a year earlier instead of being top vote-getters but still missing the magical number, and the hall of fame will add two quality players and benefit financially.
The financial aspect is key, as the induction process is, during a good year, one of the top money-making weekend for the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Last year, well over 5,000 people attended the induction ceremony and hall of fame game exhibition, packing the stands in a way unmatched by any other event in Oneonta. Were this to happen consistently, induction weekend could become a marquee weekend.
This year presents much less of a draw, as no players being inducted means no hall of fame game following inductions. Typically, at least one of the teams participating is a team that an inducted player played for, but there are no players this year, meaning that arguably the most entertaining part of the weekend is taken away. Again, all of this because of the 75% threshold.
So, instead of having a dead-set percentage that must be reached to be inducted into the hall of fame, those in charge up in Oneonta should look at installing an alternate rule of sorts for when parody reins and nobody reaches that heralded mark. It will clearly benefit the players, but it will also help ensure that induction weekend is something that fans consistently want to attend, and is not just left as an afterthought.
Jeff Kassouf is a staff writer for The New Paltz Times and a freelance writer who covers soccer, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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