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It’s a travesty that Cunningham hasn’t made College Football Hall of Fame

They have cast their disfigured net at the College Football Hall of Fame even wider, expanded their reasoning for induction even broader, devised cursory explanations for some who are now welcome to even greater lengths.

Which makes the continuing exclusion of Randall Cunningham even more absurd.

Cunningham, the former UNLV star, was first nominated in 2006 and has been on the national ballot since, meaning those at the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame become more provincial in their selections with each passing ceremony.

Or they just don’t pay close enough attention.

It was announced last week that this year’s class will include the likes of Jim Tressel and Brian Bosworth, the former still serving an NCAA five-year show-cause penalty for failing to report knowledge of impermissible benefits given to players at Ohio State, and the latter a former linebacker whose college career ended at Oklahoma for admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs.

One was a cheating coach who looked the other way and in doing so promoted a culture of deceit, a sweater vest defined by covering up scandal and misleading investigators; the other cheated by using steroids.

This is how Steve Hatchell, president and CEO of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame, explained each selection to reporters:

On Tressel: “That was looked at closely. A lot of people felt he was a heck of a coach who cared for his guys. This wasn’t shoot from the hip. It was all carefully considered.”

On Bosworth: “Those issues have been discussed a lot. For the most part, the feeling was it was time.”

Don’t you love the self-righteous, holier-than-thou stance often taken by different Hall of Fames, the same sort of pious attitudes that kept former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian out of Springfield, Mass., for so long, as those with voting power dig their heels into some self-serving moral foundation they lack the right to advance or promote?

If they always believed him a Hall of Famer on the field, what purpose did it serve to make Bosworth wait 19 years to be chosen?

To make those voting feel better and more ethical about themselves?

And if they can now create reasons as to why those with credentials that include the fraudulent ways of Tressel and Bosworth should be inducted, how is it that Cunningham remains on the outside looking in?

If it is for being listed only as a punter on the ballot, I would hope those voting take the process seriously enough to fully research all candidates. Cunningham was a first-team All-America punter for the Rebels and twice named to second-team All-America lists. His career average was a staggering 45.6 yards, and he fell just eight kicks short of having the third-best average in NCAA history. He also didn’t begin punting until the middle of his sophomore year.

Ray Guy, the only punter in the College Football Hall of Fame, was brilliant. He changed how the game was played at every level. But he wasn’t near the all-around talent of Cunningham, who was also an honorable mention All-America quarterback and a conference offensive player of the year at that position, who still holds school records for 8,020 career passing yards and 59 touchdowns in just three seasons.

More important, there is this: Part of the Hall of Fame’s requirements for inclusion is that “while each nominee’s football achievements in college are of prime consideration, his post football record as a citizen is also weighed. He must have proven himself worthy as a citizen, carrying the ideals of football forward into his relations with his community and fellow man …”

Cunningham is a man of profound faith, an ordained pastor who built his own church at Remnant Ministries in the same city where he played college football, who in 2010 answered the most difficult and absolute worst nightmare for a parent, the accidental drowning death of his 2½-year-old son, by tending to his flock and reminding those who fill seats and hang on his every word each Sunday that we can’t live without faith and wisdom.

He has counseled and encouraged and helped so many throughout the years, people who care deeply for him and are devoted to his message.

He is the very definition of that requirement the Hall of Fame demands its members exhibit. Cunningham was recently named head football coach at Silverado High, yet another example of him “carrying the ideals of football forward into his relations with his community and fellow man …”

Seventeen new names were introduced last week as College Football Hall of Fame members. Among them were Jim Tressel and Brian Bosworth, accompanied by vague quotes from those who chose them as to why their transgressions were overlooked this particular time.

How ironic that those who approve Hall of Famers make up an Honors Court.

Tressel lied to the NCAA. He was in charge of two programs (Youngstown State, where he is amazingly now its president, and Ohio State) that were penalized by the NCAA. For so long, Tressel denied all charges of cheating while defending his actions.

There’s not much honor in that, and yet the fraud that is Tressel now calls the Hall of Fame home.

Meanwhile, a man like Randall Cunningham, who meets all requirements for inclusion and who has surpassed some by incredible strides, remains on the outside looking in.

Absurd.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 100.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

 

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