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Early Enrollee Signing Fears Overblown

Mitch Sherman of on the NCAA’s two interpretations last year regarding early enrollee signing:

Additionally, the scenario that involved Malone and others carried the potential to ignite a recruiting free-for-all, with coaches and schools competing for recruits in public venues and through unmonitored communication.

“That could be really ugly,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe told me shortly before signing day. “To me, look at how damaging that could be to a young man and his family.”

These fears are way overblown for three reasons. First, the second interpretation issued by the NCAA, which says only the first financial aid agreement signed counts for the purposes of recruiting rules, largely fixes the problem. The method of enforcement could be better rather than relying on media reports and asking the prospect. But you cannot have two coaches talking about the same prospect without one getting in trouble. Same thing if two or more programs are calling a prospect so much he mentions it publicly.

Second, one of the important and overlooked parts of the NCAA’s first interpretation last year is that prospects must be enrolled in classes necessary to graduate high school early to sign starting August 1. One day that might be most or all football prospects. And there are ways to get around that limit. But right now, it is still a minority. This issue does not apply generally to every football prospect.

Third, and most importantly, is that prospects had to sign multiple financial aid agreements to trigger any of these rules. Even if it applied to every football prospect and the NCAA had not issued the second interpretation, there would be no “free-for-all” because prospects had to choose to sign multiple agreements. Elite prospects could simply have chosen not to sign too early if they did not want the looser recruiting rules. And below that level, prospects would have been less likely to be subjected to the same public recruiting and frequent communication, assuming coaches even offered them financial aid agreements without the security of the National Letter of Intent.

The end of Sherman’s article reveals the real reason coaches are still concerned about early enrollee signing:

“I think there’s a lot to be worked out with this topic,” said Sonny Cumbie, co-offensive coordinator at TCU. “The recruiting process is sped up so much now.”

At TCU, Cumbie said, coaches want prospects to visit campus before making a commitment. Current rules allow no official visits before Sept. 1 – a full month after recruits can sign the agreements. An adjustment is needed. An early letter-of-intent signing period might solve the problem. Perhaps the legislators who govern these rules should submit to the same practice college coaches require of their players every year at this time: a full review of what they learned last year.

Potentially signing a handful of prospects to a non-binding (for the athlete) financial aid agreement is “really ugly” and “speeds up” the recruiting process. The proposed solution is to allow official visits sooner, allow any prospect to sign sooner, and attached a binding (on the player) NLI. None of that slows down the recruiting process, reduces any of the current recruiting frenzy, or prevents ugliness, especially once schools start having to enforce these earlier NLIs. What it does do is remove one small way prospects had gained a leg up on coaches when it came to the recruiting process.

Bethel University Tennessee Sports Recruiting.

Bethesda University of California Sports Recruiting.

Bethune Cookman University Sports Recruiting.

Bevill State Community College Sports Recruiting.

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