Welcome to an experiment that will blow your mind – or more exactly, leave you appropriately confused. Let’s begin with an intro.

Five weeks ago, I sat inside a conference room at the J.W. Marriott in Indianapolis surrounded by a collection of the most respected reporters in football. We were gathered as the 44-member selection committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, ordered with assembling this year’s Hall class.

As a committee rookie – I served as an alternate for Twin Cities representative Mark Craig – I entered the day with great eagerness, an open mind and, oh yeah, the responsibility of presenting the Hall of Fame cases for former Vikings Chris Doleman and Cris Carter.

What followed was an eye-opening experience, a guided tour for how the sausage gets made and an up-close reminder on just how thankless the Hall of Fame committee’s job can be.

The selection meeting itself lasted nearly 7.5 hours, filled with spirited debate and two-sided arguments for every 2012 finalist. That meant the Hall of Fame credentials of 15 modern-era finalists and two senior candidates were presented, discussed and thoroughly evaluated.

The voting process, as it always does, consisted of four rounds:

  1. A “yes or no” vote taken on the two senior candidates (Jack Butler and Dick Stanfels) with 80 percent approval needed to earn induction into the hall.
  2. A vote to narrow the list of 15 modern-era finalists down to 10. (Each committee member submitted his or her own top 10 via secret ballot with an independent firm tabulating the results.)
  3. A subsequent vote to narrow the top 10 down to 5.
  4. A final “yes or no” vote on which of the final five candidates would be Hall of Famers with 80 percent approval (36 yes votes) required for selection.

By day’s end, the committee had given a nod of approval to senior candidate Jack Butler plus each of the modern-era finalists who made the top five: Doleman, Cortez Kennedy, Curtis Martin, Dermontti Dawson and Willie Roaf.

That, ladies and gentleman, like it or not, was your Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2012.

As a first-timer in the room, it was immediately evident the process was far from flawless, the voting rules seeming somewhat arbitrary.

On the plus side, the informed and impassioned debate within the room created discussion that presented comprehensive profiles of each candidate with thought-provoking information provided on both ends of the spectrum. At the end of the day, I knew without a doubt the committee had attacked the process with intelligence and integrity.

Still, the annual backlash quickly mushroomed with the exclusions of Carter and Bill Parcells stimulating the most chatter. The week following the Super Bowl, the Hall of Fame arguments burned hot with committee critics like Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio firing the most bullets, first questioning the committee's dedication and motives and then making another call for significant change to the process.

Florio’s complaints struck a nerve with Sports Illustrated’s Peter King who noted he would consider stepping away from the Hall of Fame fray after 20 years serving the committee.

A litany of criticisms was made. Some were valid. Many were uninformed and speculative.

You should know that, yes, this year’s Hall of Fame class will include the maximum number of modern-era candidates allowed by the rules. Yet for days I heard talking heads on ESPN and elsewhere spreading the falsity that the selection committee could have selected one more member and therefore failed miserably by not getting Parcells or Carter through.

(In truth, the only way the 2012 class could have reached seven members was if senior candidate Dick Stanfels had received more than 80 percent of the “yes or no” vote. In truth, the committee opened the door for as many modern-era candidates as we were allowed to.)

There was also widespread speculation that committee members in the room were holding longstanding grudges against the likes of Parcells and Carter, who’ve both had their run-ins with the media and have plenty of fuel in their ego tanks. And while I can’t say for certain how the other 43 members in the selection room feel deep down inside, there was no evidence that day of any ill-intentioned voting or manipulation of the process.

The final point which needs clarification was the notion – perpetuated by many critics – that the selection committee had voted no on the Hall of Fame credentials of Parcells and Carter. Which is patently false. Neither of those men ever came up for the “yes or no” vote because they didn’t make the cut into the final five, which is where that “green light/red light” vote is ultimately taken.

In other words, it’s quite possible that if a “yes or no” vote had been taken at the very outset of the selection meeting, both Parcells and Carter would have received the requisite 80 percent approval rate to make the Hall. But since there’s a limit of five modern-era candidates per year who can be given the “yes or no” vote and there are somewhat arbitrary steps used to narrow the list down to five, we’ll never know how many of the other finalists may have gotten the 80 percent vote required for Hall entry.

After all, I can say for certain that there were four modern-era finalists (Carter included) whom I would have given a Hall of Fame “yes” to had they ever come up for such a vote.

Sensing the complexity of the process better now?

So, given this year’s Hall results, should the outside complaints be directed exclusively at the selection committee? Or might the Pro Football Hall of Fame rules, which put a limit on each year’s class size, need to be amended? And might there be easy to enact changes made to how the Hall narrows down its list of 15 finalists?

Upon leaving the selection meeting, I felt honored to be part of the process and truly enlightened to see how the process unfolds. Instead of simply viewing the final results and immediately venting about the idiocy of the selection committee, I had been given an inside look to form more informed thoughts on the complicated process.

And that subsequently stimulated me to give others in the general public a similar opportunity to gain an appreciation for the process. So I solicited mock committee members for my own Hall of Fame experiment, collecting a 20-person selection group to go through a similar process to what went down in Indianapolis on Feb. 5.

The process proved eye-opening. So, too, did the results, which I will now share, compare and analyze in Part II of this entry.

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