Why Have a College Football Hall of Fame If Derrick Thomas Isn't in It?

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Why Have a College Football Hall of Fame If Derrick Thomas Isn't in It?
Allen Steele/Getty Images

Derrick Thomas is not in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Normally, a phrase along these lines would match up accordingly with absurdities such as “the sky isn’t blue,” “water isn’t wet,” “beer isn’t delicious” and “tacos are overrated.”

The problem, however, is that Derrick Thomas really isn’t in CFB’s shrine as of now. There’s no good reason for this, either—not when you recall what the late, great Alabama pass-rushing machine did in his time at Tuscaloosa. He wasn't just a great defensive player, he was a transcendent talent who is all over college football's record books.

And yet he's not in the sport's most exclusive club. 

That could change this year. On Thursday, the National Football Foundation released the ballot for this year’s College Football Hall of Fame, and Thomas was one of 75 former players included. This marks the fourth season he's been eligible for election, although he fell short—somehow—in the first three.

Thomas will now take center stage as the Hall of Fame’s current supreme snub, although some might argue that he was in that spotlight before 2013. At the very least, he’s no longer sharing the spotlight with Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier, who (finally) heard his name called last year.

Frazier—along with his 33-3 record as a starter, 5,476 yards of offense, four conference championships and a U-Haul full of hardware—was inexplicably denied access to the club between 2006 and 2012. Sanity prevailed (at least for him), and Frazier was inducted to the College Hall of Fame last season. It was long overdue.

The same can be said for Thomas, at least not yet, although the wait hasn’t been as long. It's the fact that there’s any wait at all that’s surprising.

Thomas, of course, tragically died following a car accident in 2000, leaving behind tremendous legacies at both the college and NFL ranks. Try to count on one hand five defensive players you would take over the linebacker.

Go ahead. Keep trying.

David Breslauer/Associated Press

There's no need to boost his resume. It's a resume that requires no further boosting and is more wasted keyboard gestures than anything else. But given the conversation and sheer absurdity of his omission, his accolades are worth nothing.

Thomas' list of greatest hits is one that runs deep, but it likely begins with his NCAA record of 27 sacks in a single season. That’s a number that has withstood the test of time, and one that likely won’t be challenged any time soon. By comparison, the defenders with the most sacks in 2013—Stanford’s Trent Murphy and Louisville’s Marcus Smith—combined for 29.5.

To go along with those sacks—which included five in a single game against Texas A&M, another incredible mark—Thomas finished the 1988 season with a video game-esque 38 tackles for loss. He was also named the Butkus Award winner, SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous first-team All-American that season, as if such final clarification was necessary.

For his career, Thomas finished with 52 sacks, an NCAA record that he shares with former Arizona linebacker Tedy Bruschi, while adding 68 tackles for loss and five blocked kicks.

If you were constructing the dream resume of a defensive player, you would generate something like this. In fact, you’d probably fall short of these numbers, because some of this production is too robust to believe.

And yet, I repeat, he's not in the sport's most exclusive club. 

The National Football Foundation has a particular set of guidelines when it comes to induction, particularly for former players:

To be eligible for the ballot, players must have been named a First Team All-American by a major/national selector as recognized and utilized by the NCAA for their consensus All-America teams; played their last year of intercollegiate football at least 10 years prior; played within the last 50 years and cannot be currently playing professional football.

No issues there, obviously. He's on the ballot and ready for inclusion.

There is, however, a bit of a cryptic procedure that has become a popular topic in recent years. ESPN.com’s Ivan Maisel, a familiar figure when it comes to voting procedure, noted that “the Hall has a rule against taking players from the same school in consecutive years.”

While absolutely ridiculous—and somewhat difficult to understand—this doesn’t apply to Thomas. In fact, it didn’t apply to him in 2013, either. An Alabama player hasn’t been inducted in the past two seasons. So cross that excuse off the list as well.

This paves the way for Thomas in 2014, although that path has been cleared for some time. It's the system that again takes center stage. Even by Hall of Fame standards, the College Football Hall of Fame is outrageously flawed. That’s saying something because “Hall of Fame standards” is not something typically well regarded or well received by anyone in any sport.

Should Derrick Thomas be in the College Football Hall of Fame?

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Politics and procedure outweigh what should be the overwhelming goal for any Hall of Fame: To honor the truly elite accordingly. This isn't just a college football problem, but rather an issue across all sports.

We could debate endlessly about the criteria for selecting Hall of Famers, although Hall of Fame debates typically end in screaming, Internet riots and strong opinions that take away from the deserving members included in the discussion.

They’re like mazes without defined starting points or endings. College football's maze is no different. There's just a few more dead ends and complexities that we'll never quite understand, at least given its current form

Let’s forget about that, though. Instead of worrying about rebuilding our sport’s most exclusive club—which would require a dump truck full of TNT, access to a 100-man construction crew and a family pack of hard hats to tear it down first—let’s get one of the greatest college football players of all time in first.

That seems like a fair and appropriate next step. Then we can blow the whole thing up.

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