Basketball Hall of Fame voting change could help Eddie Sutton at long last
Eddie Sutton’s Basketball Hall of Fame odyssey remains a hot-button issue in the state of Oklahoma, with OSU fans and Sutton family loyalists demanding justice for the coach who won 806 games, took four schools to the NCAA Tournament and built nationally-relevant programs at once-sleepy places like Arkansas and Oklahoma State.
Sutton, for the seventh time, is a Hall of Fame finalist, announced just last week. The Hall of Fame will announce its 2020 class during Final Four weekend in April. Our Jenni Carlson wrote about Sutton’s candidacy for the Tuesday Oklahoman, which you can read here. Part of the problem is that unlike the Pro Football or baseball halls of fame, we don’t know a lot about the Basketball Hall of Fame procedures.
But in 2020, the Basketball Hall of Fame, based in Springfield, Massachusetts, is conducting a one-time change in the process. Maybe the change of pace can propel Sutton into the Hall of Fame.
This year alone, the Hall of Fame has streamlined the induction process. The Hall said that because of the presence of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett on the ballot, it feared that less-marquee candidates could be overshadowed.
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The Hall of Fame process is divided into committees – the North American, Women’s, Contributors, Early African-American Pioneers, International and Veterans (35-plus years since retirement).
The North American and Women’s committees produce finalists. The North American committee consists of nine voters, and seven affirmative votes are required to reach finalist status and advance to the Honors committee. The Women’s committee consists of seven voters; five affirmative votes are needed to advance. The North American committee can nominate a maximum of 10 finalists; the Women’s committee can nominate a maximum of four finalists.
The Contributors, Early African-American Pioneers, International and Veterans committees are distinct direct-elect committees. If those committees select an honoree, that honoree is a Hall of Famer.
This year, the Hall of Fame will not induct any new members from Contributors, Early African-American or Veterans committees. The Hall of Fame could induct an International committee selection.
Also, the North American and Women's committee finalists for this season were cut in half – a maximum of five from the North American committee and two from the Women’s committee, though in truth three women were nominated.
All of which means the 2020 Hall of Fame class will be smaller than usual. In the last four years, anywhere from 10-13 new inductee were added to Springfield. This year, the maximum will be nine – the nine finalists plus a potential International committee selection.
Could the one-year change help Sutton? I don’t see how it could hurt. Sutton has been losing out under the previous format. Maybe the change – with fewer finalists – is just what he needed. Heck, it stands to reason that if Sutton has been on the losing end of votes out of a group of 10 or almost 10, his standing is better if that group is now five.
The Hall of Fame has some peculiar policies. Springfield has a board of trustees that can eliminate a finalist. Here’s what it’s policies state: “After the vote of the Screening Committees, the Finalists will first be reviewed by the BHOF Board of Trustees. At this time, should it be determined by the Board of Trustees that a Finalist has damaged the integrity of the game of basketball, he/she shall be deemed not worthy of Enshrinement and removed from consideration.”
If that’s indeed the way the Hall of Fame conducts business, then the board of trustees has not blackballed Sutton. If Sutton was being stricken from the ballot after being nominated by the screening committee, I assume the screening committee would not keep trotting out his name.
Sutton’s legacy is tarnished by NCAA infractions at Kentucky while he was head coach, and the way his OSU career ended with a drunk-driving crash. But the board of trustees, at least the way the process is structured, is set up as the morality police, and it appears Sutton is surviving that hurdle. It’s the honors committee that apparently has been keeping out Sutton.
The honors committee is the 24-person voting panel. Each member votes yea or nay for each finalist. The committee consists of Hall of Famers, basketball executives and administrators, media and “other experts in the game of basketball,” according to the Hall’s own guidelines. A finalist needs at least 18 votes, 75 percent, to be enshrined. If the Honors Committee votes against a finalist for five consecutive years, the finalist’s nomination will be suspended for five years. Sutton is not in danger of being a five-year finalist – this is his seventh time to be a finalist, but he was not a finalist in 2015, 2017 or 2018.
So Sutton’s fate is in the hands of those 24 voters.
The North American finalists are Garnett, Kobe, Duncan, Sutton and two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich, who also was a heck of a player, averaging 17.4 points a game over 11 NBA seasons.
The Women’s committee finalists: player Tamika Catchings and coaches Kim Mulkey and Barbara Stevens.
All eight could be inducted. It’s just a simple vote for each. Kobe, Duncan and Garnett are sure to go in. Then the meaningful ballots will roll in, and Sutton’s status will be known.