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NCAA Rule Changes Will Increase Signing Day Hoopla

Signing Day is a week away, so we are likely to get the annual flood of articles and blog posts arguing about the spectacle. Some will say Signing Day and the attention lavished on recruits who have done nothing in college is another moral failing of modern American society. Others will counter that it is harmless fun for athletes who are realizing a dream they have worked hard for years to accomplish. But what almost no one will argue is that Signing Day should be an even bigger production than it already is.

But that’s what will start happening beginning next year thanks to two rule changes adopted by the Division I Board of Directors at the NCAA Convention in Dallas. It could turn Signing Day into Signing Two Weeks by allowing athletic departments to do a lot more to promote athletes after they sign the National Letter of Intent.

The Two Proposals

RWG Proposals 11-2, 13-2, and 13-3 have gotten most of the press for how they would deregulate limitations on who can contact athletes, how often they can be contacted, and expand the pool of athletes who could be contacted. Two other proposals, 13-1 and 13-7 have flown under the radar, but will have an impact on Signing Day.

  • RWG 13-1 treats any prospect who has signed a National Letter of Intent, scholarship offer, or offer of admissions the same as an enrolled student-athlete for the purposes of the recruiting legislation. Any extra benefits the athlete would receive are subject to Bylaw 16, which covers benefits for enrolled student-athletes.
  • RWG 13-7 removes essentially any limit on publicity after an athlete signs a National Letter of Intent, scholarship offer, or offer of admissions.

RWG 13-7 requires some explanation, since many assume that there were no limits on publicity after a prospect signs, but there were a few. Universities were limited to one press conference to announce signings and one highlight video. Athletic departments and boosters could not arrange for signing day parties that included prospects. Athletic departments could not buy advertisements or billboards announcing the signing. Prospects could not sign the NLI publicly on campus.

Signing Day Present

Next week, the biggest signing day occurs when the signing period for football opens. The general theme of Signing Day is that the school and the athlete have separate, but parallel celebrations. The prospect, if he has not committed, may announce his decision in some unique way. He will likely sign his National Letter of Intent at his high school, which will hold a press conference/party for all the athletes at the school who will be playing college sports. And then he may celebrate more or less privately with his family.

The college meanwhile will announce the prospect’s signing once they receive his National Letter of Intent. After all or most of the NLIs are in, the head coach will give a press conference, during which some highlights will be shown. And typically there will be a booster function that evening where the head coach speaks to donors about the incoming recruiting class.

Signing Day Future

All that could change in the coming years, mostly because these two separate celebrations will start to become intertwined. Some of this is speculative as well, because RWG 13-1 is so light on details about what exactly making a prospect a student-athlete means. So consider this a “worst case scenario” if you think Signing Day is already blown out of proportion.

The day would start with the prospect privately signing a copy of the NLI at 7:00 AM local time and sending it in to the university. That triggers RWG 13-1 and makes the prospect a student-athlete, which enables much of what follows.

Athletes will still have a local press conference or celebration, but it will no longer be at their high school. The reason is that despite the prospect now being a student-athlete, coaches cannot visit the school because of the dead period surrounding Signing Day. By moving the press conference, the athlete could have one of his new coaches (likely the assistant who recruited him) attend the press conference. That assistant may also be carrying a set of warmups, t-shirts, and hats for the athlete (permitted as practice apparel) to wear during the press conference.

Meanwhile, back on campus, the head coach will probably still have one press conference, rather than making the local media sit around for a bunch of 10 minute chats about individual recruits. The exception may be for the top recruit or a highly anticipated signing. Meanwhile in addition to their existing work, the media relations and promotions staff will be buying newspaper ads and billboards both locally in and their prospects’ hometowns.

The traditional booster function will be moved to the weekend, say Saturday night. This will give time for the signees to come to the campus. While some may save their official visit until after signing, many will come on their own dime for an unofficial visit. They will still get to enjoy a meal with the coaches and boosters though, permitted as an occasional meal for student-athletes. And contact with those boosters will not be regulated since the incoming athletes are no longer considered prospects.

For Better or For Worse

If you think Signing Day is already a problem in college athletics, this likely looks like a nightmare. Athletes flying across the country for parties, donning not just hats but t-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, and warmups, having extensive contact with boosters before they even start school. It turns the simple act of signing a scholarship into a multi-day extravaganza.

But if you think Signing Day is mostly harmless fun, then this seems like more harmless fun. None of this is likely to sway many prospects’ decisions. Some of it is expensive, like flying a coach out to watch a prospect sign a piece of paper he already signed. But much of it, like the booster functions and work that goes into promotions is already being done. Even the gear will start out being leftovers that the school was going to sell off or donate anyway (before they start making custom gear for the recruits).

Either way, Signing Day is not going away, and if there was any area of recruiting the NCAA should get out of regulating, it was this. Commitments have already been made and NLIs have already been signed, so the competitive advantage is minimal. The restrictions were an example of “legislating morality”. That’s a business many want the NCAA to get out of, especially for such trivial moral judgments.

The one caveat is that running through a Signing Day scenario shows just how far reaching the impact of RWG 13-1 might be. Just surrounding this one event, it could allow schools to provide apparel to prospects, let them get closer to boosters earlier, and get them into a party or dinner they previously would not have been allowed to attend. That is just over a couple of days, off the top of my head. Imagine what coaches will be able to come up with when they really put their minds to it.

Are you ready for the NEXT STEP!