HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – The various answers offered by coaches at Pac-12 Football Media Days last week regarding an early signing period is a clear sign that there will be some confusion about just how this will play out in December.
There was certainly no consensus view as some coaches support the early period where recruits can sign during a 72-hour window from Dec. 20-22. Others were clearly against it.
“I'm still personally not a huge fan of the early signing period,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “The earlier we make it, the more difficult everybody's job is going to be because there is a contingent of young people, recruits, that want to sign earlier, and I understand that, there are a lot of coaches that want them to sign earlier for their own reasons.
“But I think what happens that we forget about, these are still 16-, 17-year-old kids. No one can tell me some of these guys still aren't going to change their minds between December and February. And when they change their minds, guess what, we're going to let them out of those letters of intent, because we've never held anybody to a letter of intent that really wants to get out, whether they have a legitimate reason or not. So my thing has always been, let's let the process be as long as it can be and let's give these guys and their families as much time as possible to make a decision and leave a late date to where they can sign.”
For Clay Helton, the USC coach did not take an entirely positive or negative view toward the early signing period. It’s reality – and now the Trojans and every other team have to change their recruiting strategies.
Like everyone else – and this is a concern many coaches have talked about through these early signing period discussions – is that the recruiting calendar will be pushed up even further.
That’s worrisome to many with a bunch of middle schoolers already landing major Power Five offers.
“It's going to open up some official visits in the spring for juniors, which is going to be a little bit different for us,” Helton said. “Staffs are going to have to kind of enhance and push forward their decision-making and evaluations a little bit. But the early signing period is going to help with your midterm signees.
“We've averaged anywhere from five to 10 midterm graduates a year. You're going to go ahead and get to sign those in December and step on campus in January. Then there are some kids that just know they want to be Trojans. They're done with the recruiting process. They want to end it and they're not making any more visits and they're 100 percent sure that's what they want to do, and they can end their process, which is nice for them. I still foresee because of the time period, especially this year, we did not have the spring official visits, so you only have fall and winter official visits, that there will be a lot of February decisions, still, also this year.”
One of the hottest topics during the “talking season” of Pac-12 Football Media Days was the early signing period, to go along with the end of two-a-day practices and whether there was an East Coast bias in college football rankings.
When Washington State coach Mike Leach was not being asked about whether a hot dog was a sandwich – yes, that was a question – he addressed his dislike of the early signing period, basically saying 18-year-olds change their minds all the time. Making them decide earlier is probably not a good thing.
“I’m generally against that,” Leach said. “It depends when. Anything before December is ridiculous. Everybody forgets what it was like when they were 18.
“Maybe I remember better than some, part of it is because I’m around 18-year-olds all the time. When you’re 18, trying to sort out a decision of where to go to college, you could make the argument February is challenging enough. All of a sudden you’re going to make a binding, significant decision, you move it up even more, it’s difficult.”
For Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, it’s not so hard. He thinks an early signing period provides more clarity for the prospect (if he can sign earlier then that school really wants him) and for the coaches (if a prospect doesn’t want to sign early, then what is he waiting for?).
It’s difficult to know exactly how this will all settle out in December with so many varying viewpoints on each side.
“For example, we have a guy who has a Utah offer and Alabama interest and December 20 comes along and we say, ‘We have a scholarship for you now or we’re going to move on or you can wait and roll the dice and see if something else materializes,’” Whittingham said.
“A lot of guys are going to take the bird in the hand. It’s an earlier indicator for us just where we stand with the kid and how strongly he feels about it. Commitments change. They commit, decommit, re-commit, there are so many unknowns and so much uncertainty in that. This will provide a much clearer picture of where you stand at least on December 20.
“It’s like you have two milestones now – December 20, who can we get in the boat and signed up. Then you have to know what you have to do from December 20 to February 1.”