Sports Halls of Fame have reputations as august institutions that reflect the rich history and accomplishments of their leagues and games. Exhibits hearken back to the greatest moments in sports history. And, crucially, the voters who choose Hall of Fame inductees know the histories of the sport well enough that they can assess a person's viability for inclusion in the proper context.
In conception, induction isn't supposed to be a popularity contest, even if personal resentments and preferences often play into the selections. So it stands to reason that a major Hall of Fame would never open up its selection process. Except, in a press conference Friday, Jerry Colangelo said that the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., will open up the 2013 selection process to a fan vote organized by ESPN. Yes, the same people who voted Vince Carter to the All-Star game well past his sell-by date will now get to have a say in who's displayed forever in Springfield.
Now, before we get all up in arms, it's important to remember that the impact of the fan vote will be limited. As Rob Mahoney notes at ProBasketballTalk, induction still requires 18 votes from the expert panel, and the fan vote will still only account for one. On top of that, fans will be given a handpicked list of participants, so it's not as if people can start a Facebook campaign to get Yinka Dare into Springfield (although that wouldn't be the worst idea).
Yet, for all those protections against fans storming the Hall of Fame, there's something a little off about this process. The entire point of an expert committee is that it knows more than the fans. Opening up voting to people outside of that committee effectively undermines its authority, even if only symbolically. And while that committee has serious problems — it has long overrated collegiate and international accomplishments — the notion of a Hall of Fame is built on the idea that only a small group of people are involved in the process. Changing the voting process to include fans effectively alters the concept of the institution, too.
That might not be the worst thing, but it does complicate the meaning of the Hall of Fame. When the fans act as the deciding vote to induct Derek Fisher, know that you were warned.