We are finally one step closer to an early signing period in college football. The NCAA’s Division I Council voted to allow an early signing period on Friday, a subject I’ve been asked about and written about for nearly 20 years. Now if the Collegiate Commissioners Association agrees in June, we will officially have something that has been needed for a long time. Here are a few quick takeaways on what this means.
1) The early signing period would be in mid- to late December and, while I’ve always felt August would be a better option, it’s a good start. It would be a 72-hour period that will coincide with the mid-year junior college transfer signing period. For 2017, the dates will be Dec. 20-22. There will still be the normal Signing Day the first Wednesday of February, but now things can be spread out a bit and players who don’t want to deal with the hassle of January coaching calls can relieve a little stress and end the process about six weeks earlier.
2) The most important part of this is that it will make things a bit more clear a little earlier when it comes to honoring scholarship offers. We all saw what happened to four-star Jarez Parks in the 2017 recruiting cycle, a talented player who waited until the end to make his decision and found out he didn’t have an immediate home. Parks ended up as a grayshirt for Alabama, but with an early signing period, he could have known in December that his favorite schools were lukewarm on him or perhaps one of them would have signed him then with less congestion of scholarship numbers.
Whatever would have happened to Parks, at least he would have known more. That likely won’t stop schools from dropping commitments, as coaches like Jim Harbaugh, Nick Saban and most recently Randy Edsall have come under fire for, but it will give those who are dropped much more time to regroup and find a new home. The bottom line is this – if you don’t have a National Letter of Intent (NLI) to sign in the first signing period from the school you are either committed to or favor, then you know exactly where you stand with them.
3) Included in the proposed rule changes is an opportunity for players to take official visits from April to June before their senior year, which is another good thing. Official visits have always been allowed between the start of a player’s senior year of high school and the last visit weekend in January, obviously a busy time of year for players juggling a football season, academics, all-star games and the like. Now with the opportunity to take official visits in the spring, clearly a much less hectic time, recruits can better utilize all five of their official visits rather than trying to cram them in during the season or in the mad rush towards that Wednesday in February.
4) Earlier official visits will help the more geographically remote schools and the schools that have traditionally had recruits poached by the big boys in January. Taking an unofficial visit to Nebraska on a players’ own dime can be tough, for example, so by the time the Huskers get a prospect on campus, it can be way behind in the recruitment. This levels the playing field a bit for schools that are more difficult and expensive to get to.
5) I’ve covered numerous prospects over the years committed to mid-level FBS schools who received an offer from a power program late and flipped. Now, coaches can also know where they stand with recruits, equally important in this process or perhaps moreso. If a player has been committed to you for a year but he won’t sign an NLI in December and wants to take his official visits, you as a coaching staff now have a choice. Either you continue to pursue him knowing he wants to date others while being “committed” or you can drop him and move on. Or, with this early knowledge, you can at the very least start recruiting others at his position so you don’t get stuck if he flips later.
6) Finally, an early signing period will make covering and following the recruiting process a bit easier. Easier you say? With a 72-hour hectic period in December now added to the madness of Signing Day? By easier I mean with much more clarity. I’ve covered so many recruits that I’ve known will flip on their current commitment, yet waited until the end to do so. Whether it was for attention or truly due to confusion and indecision, I’ve just know it was coming and so did many others.
But for the schools the player was committed to, they had to continue to recruit this player as if their lives depended on it and somewhat suspend reality and believe they would get them in the end. Now they can be put out of their misery much earlier and we can all at least know a bit earlier. Again, August would really make things much more clear and free up kids to be kids during their senior football season, but at least this is a start.