Adding Early Football Signing Period More Complicated Than It Seems

national-signing-dayESPN’s Mitch Sherman on the possibility of an early signing period in football:

Susan Peal, NCAA associate director of operations, said the continued acceleration of recruiting has led the Conference Commissioners Association to consider an earlier date to supplement the long-existing date in February, similar to the structure for basketball and other sports.

“I think everyone wants an early signing period,” Peal said this week. “It’s just trying to nail down what’s the appropriate date for that.”

Everyone does not include coaches like Georgia’s Mark Richt and Stanford’s David Shaw. The objections are as varied as the reasons to support it, but two stand out. First, from Kentucky’s Mark Stoops:

“If things start moving up, it changes the way we’ve been doing things for a long time.”

And second, from Richt:

“I don’t want to turn the regular season into such a recruiting frenzy that you can’t even coach your team on a weekly basis. I enjoy coaching football, too.”

When it comes to recruiting proposals, the thing to always keep in mind is that coaches generally do not like recruiting. Only a few rare coaches enjoy the travel, the salesmanship, the handlers, and the uncertainty. Even many of the coaches who are good at it see it as a necessary evil. Anyone who has figured out a system for being good at a part of their job they do not enjoy is not going to support changes that require them to rethink how they do that task.

I am not a fan of a football early signing period for the simple reason that right now football sidesteps a lot of problems by signing players to binding NLIs after the coaching carousel has wound down. I do not agree with Shaw that the prospects “always” win release appeals, but the number of requests for release would go up sharply if more coaching turnover after signing is introduced. On the other hand, the emerging trend of assistants remaining in jobs until the next class is signed before leaving or being fired reduces this benefit. It is only a matter of time before a school lets a head coach sign a class, then fires him and tries to enforce the NLI against many or all of those prospects.

And while I’m normally skeptical of college football’s claims that things which work in other sports would not work in football, signing in the middle of the season would be a challenge. An early signing period, especially with the corresponding recruiting changes mentioned by Peal, do little to alleviate the frenzy surrounding the run-in to signing day. Moving it to November, the heart of the college football season, would be a significant disruption.

The alternatives would be to open the signing period sometime before or after the regular football season. A December signing period, perhaps piggybacking on the current December period for midyear junior college transfers has limited benefit and is unlikely to be popular since it gives an advantage to coaches who are not in bowls. A summer signing period would be more than two months earlier than any other sport and necessitate even greater changes to NCAA recruiting rules including official visits and greater communication with juniors.

It seems like there is a great deal of momentum behind an early signing period. But rather than being a relatively straightforward process with outsize benefits, it seems like it would be either a tweak, moving the regular signing period up a month or two, or a major reform that requires not just a new signing period but also significant changes to NCAA recruiting rules. Given the way coaches fought over the 10-second substitution rule, expect something similar for an early signing period.

Posted on by John Infante
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