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Cooperation May Save Early Signing Period

When the ACC announced its preference for an early signing period starting on August 1 for football players, I was ready to take the idea apart. The combination of the terms of the NLI and current football recruiting rules made a big mess likely. Transfer rates and release requests would have gone up without coaches getting much in return since all the issues that arise in December and January would have simply moved to June and July.

But I decided to wait until seeing what the NCAA said about the work of the Football Recruiting Subcommittee at the Regional Rules Seminar in Atlanta. I’m glad I did. While what was revealed in the session did not solve the problems with an early signing period, there is hope that some of the worst consequences of signing football players in the fall or even summer can be avoided.

It starts with the make-up of the Football Recruiting Subcommittee. An offshoot of the Leadership Council, this group includes athletic directors, football coaches, coaches association reps, compliance experts, and a current football player. It has reps from power conferences, the rest of FBS, and FCS. Over the past year, the subcommittee has gotten five proposals passed on a variety of topics. Two additional dead periods were added, expenses for family members on official visits were expanded and attendance and contact at all-star games were prohibited. Nothing major, but a good start.

That positive start was reinforced in a recent meeting between the subcommittee and the AFCA Board of Trustees. At that meeting, the board endorsed the progress made by the subcommittee and urged them to continue on the same path. Wholesale deregulation of recruiting following the path of men’s basketball was not supported, but continuing to bite off chunks around the edges was given the green light. So far so good.

The Football Recruiting Subcommittee will not be directly involved in the decision to add an early signing period. The National Letter of Intent program is administered by the NCAA but is controlled by the Conference Commissioners Association. When they meet in June, the expectation is that the commissioners will endorse the concept of an early signing period for all sports who currently have an initial signing date in early February, not just football. The CCA will not adopt new signing dates through. Instead they are expected to direct the AFCA to hash out the details and competing ideas. If the football coaches cannot come back with a specific proposal in a year, it is likely that the commissioners will refuse to consider the issue for quite some time.

Given that the AFCA will be leading the effort to nail down an early signing period and their much closer working relationship with a successful group within the NCAA governance structure, we could get a more comprehensive overhaul of the football recruiting system. Instead of just plopping an early signing period into the existing recruiting rules, the Division I Manual could be reshaped to help it fit better.

The subcommittee is already exploring some ideas along this path. Potential proposals down the road include allowing coaches to text prospects, including possibly juniors. Contact with juniors at their educational institution may also be allowed, in the same vein as basketball. Despite a number of ideas to limit both official visits taken by prospects and offered by institutions, the subcommittee should also consider starting official visits earlier, perhaps on January 1 of a prospect’s junior year in high school.

Because of the trust and confidence built by the subcommittee with football coaches over the last year, there can be a much closer working relationship using the AFCA Board of Trustees as a bridge between the NCAA and the CCA. It is not likely to solve all the issues with an early signing period. But the odds are much higher now that there will at least be an attempt to reconcile football’s highly regulated recruiting system with an earlier signing day.

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