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SEC Has Concerns With All Types of Early Signing in Football

Mike Herndon of

An SEC appeal of the NCAA’s rule allowing early financial aid signings for football prospects has less to do with a controversial new interpretation and more with the effect of the rule itself and the way it’s being implemented, an SEC official told on Wednesday.

The rule in question is the NCAA’s two recent interpretations which set the start date for signing midyear enrollees at August 1 of the senior year in high school (which is in fact later than the previous rule) but then said only the first financial aid agreement signed counts for the purposes of the many exceptions to recruiting limits once an athlete commits. That second part has been criticized as difficult to enforce and raising the possibility of inadvertent violations.

But the SEC’s objections go beyond early enrollees and who can have unlimited contact to more fundamental issues about signing prospects earlier:

[Executive associate commissioner Greg] Sankey said the conference’s objections are more systemic, however, with regard to the stretching of the window for signing new prospects. The conference is concerned about potential problems should early signees fall short academically between their signing and enrollment, he said, and that allowing early signings has overly constricted the evaluation period.

Sankey goes on to raise questions not just about signing early enrollees, but also the possible early signing period for fall enrollees which is gathering momentum. His thoughts are best summed up in two quotes:

“There’s an interest in changing the recruiting structure. That should be a full and complete conversation, not something that’s done interpretatively.”

“There’s not been an idea that’s been put on the table that adequately deals with all the issues,” Sankey said. “There needs to be a full consideration of the issues.”

Therein lies the problem with football’s current recruiting reform efforts. Everything has been piecemeal, trying to deal with pain points (meals for more family members on official visits), picking and choosing from other sports (summer practice), making sure no one is getting too big an advantage (dead period during bowl season) and knee-jerk reactions to potential problems (more prohibitions on 7-on–7 involvement). Two of the most recently floated ideas are an excellent example: an early signing period accelerates recruiting but reducing official visits limits prospects’ ability to make the right decision.

Contrast that with basketball where the most recent big changes had a consistent theme: more, more, more. That package included unlimited contact with prospects including text messaging, the return of the April AAU recruiting period, on-campus evaluations (a.k.a tryouts), earlier official visits, and summer practice. If the NABC decided ask for an even earlier signing period, it would at least be consistent with other recent changes.

If football continues this scatterbrained approach to recruiting rules, it will repeat the same mistakes as basketball by giving more power to third-parties and raising transfer rates. At that point football coaches, battered by falling APR scores, will ask for the same thing basketball coaches did: looser recruiting rules to build relationships directly with prospects and evaluate more effectively. The AFCA and football coaches should be working now to avoid that roller coaster by taking the more holistic approach to recruiting reform that Sankey suggests.

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