Late Ravens owner Art Modell might face an easier path to the Pro Football Hall of Fame if the museum follows through on tentative discussions of putting "contributors" in a different voting pool than players.
Modell, who brought pro football back to Baltimore, made a list of 15 finalists for the 2013 class, the first time he had gotten that far in the voting since 2001. Modell's death last September at age 87 seemed to spur a reconsideration of his candidacy, which has always been divisive because he moved his franchise from Cleveland.
He ultimately fell short in the vote, held by 46 media members in a closed-door session the day before the Super Bowl. Voters sympathetic to Modell's case have said he will face an uphill battle as long as he's competing with former players for one of the five annual modern-era slots.
In the most recent vote, for example, Michael Strahan, Charles Haley and Jerome Bettis were left out. As long as such names are lined up waiting for spots, contributors such as Modell and former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie Debartolo Jr. will face a difficult road, say Hall of Fame officials and voters.
Only Bills owner Ralph Wilson and NFL Films founder Ed Sabol have made the Hall of Fame from the contributors list in recent years.
"I think we can see that in some instances, contributors may be impacted by the sheer number of good, quality players who are eligible," said Joe Horrigan, the Hall of Fame's vice president for communications and exhibits.
Horrigan said discussions of how to handle contributors are ongoing and that there's no timetable for a possible change, which would have to be approved by the Hall of Fame's board of trustees. He first mentioned the possibility of a change while appearing on SiriusXM NFL Radio earlier this week.
"We have not found a solution right now that we feel addresses the problem completely," Horrigan said. "Could we eventually see some tweaking to improve the contributors' chances? I think it's a possibility."
Broadcaster Scott Garceau, Baltimore's representative among the Hall of Fame voters, supports moving the contributors to a different pool. "I've had voters tell me, both on the record and off, that if it comes down to a contributor and a player, they will always vote for the player," Garceau said.
He has often said that Modell's case is hurt as much by competition with players as by lingering bitterness over the move to Baltimore.
"It's not just that they hate Art because he left Cleveland," Garceau said immediately after this year's voting. "I think maybe the greater reason is that it's very tough for contributors."
Modell's son, David, said he was reluctant to tell the Hall of Fame how to conduct its business. "But upon reflection last year, it did seem the electors were put in a very difficult position because there really are so many highly qualified players," he said. "It's hard to speculate whether this would make the difference in our case. But I do think it would make it easier for non-players to get in every year."
The Hall of Fame made a similar change when it broke off older-era players into a separate voting pool. Those players must still receive 80-percent support at the pre-Super-Bowl meeting, but they don't have to compete for spots with modern-era players.
For the National Baseball Hall of Fame, owners are voted on by the veterans committee in a process separate from the selection of recent players.
The Ravens had hoped Modell would be enshrined at the same time as Jonathan Ogden, who made the Hall of Fame this year, his first of eligibility. The great left tackle was the first player Modell drafted after moving his franchise to Baltimore. Ogden will be inducted at a ceremony in Canton, Ohio, the first weekend of August.
Modell might struggle to gain entry even if the Hall of Fame separates contributors from players. Some voters are still disturbed that he moved his franchise from Cleveland to Baltimore after the 1995 season, wounding one of the NFL's most loyal fan bases in the process.
Modell said he made the move to avoid bankruptcy. But many Clevelanders have never forgiven him and still campaign against his candidacy.
Supporters, who include Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome, argue that Modell was not only an owner for 43 years but played a significant role in making the NFL a television leviathan with annual revenues approaching $10 billion.
Horrigan noted one heartening fact for Modell's advocates: of the candidates who have made the list of 15 finalists at least twice, 90 percent have been elected to the Hall of Fame eventually.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun