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Michael Carvell

How would an early signing period work for college football?

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How would an early signing period work for college football?

Some of the biggest names in the coaching profession gave us their ideas.

An NCAA committee will meet this summer to discuss whether to keep the current system of waiting until February to allow high school seniors sign football scholarships with colleges or to amend the rules for an additional date earlier in the yearly recruiting calendar.

Football is the only major NCAA sport without an early signing period. Because the football recruiting process has become so accelerated, many FBS-level prospects commit before the start of their senior year of high school.

The majority of college coaches support some form of an early signing period.

The topic gets discussed at almost every AFCA convention and conference meeting of head football coaches. The same NCAA committee (CCA) that will review it as part of its June agenda discussed it two years ago, and on a yearly basis before that, according to an NCAA official.

If almost everybody wants an early signing period, why hasn’t it passed? It’s simple: There’s no consensus support for a plan on how to do it.

“A lot of coaches agree on the concept of an early signing period, but they have different ideas on how to do it,” said Susan Peal, the NCAA’s associate director of operations. “That’s why you’ve probably never seen it happen because there isn’t a (consensus on how to do it). And if no one can agree, it’s probably not going to happen.

“It’s not (a situation) where you have to get 100-percent in agreement but it’s all over the place when you hear from coaches (with their specific ideas).”

Here are a few ideas ideas for you to consider:

MSU's Dan Mullen

MSU’s Dan Mullen

Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen: “I’m all in favor of the choice of an early signing period if it would be the first Monday after Thanksgiving. It would be just that one day. Within that rule, it would make that Sunday and Monday a dead period after Thanksgiving, after your last game. That would be a huge help for coaches that play on Saturday, and they’re out on the road recruiting that Sunday — because you’re in a dead period those two days, or have a quiet period in case you bring in recruits for official visits … That way, teams playing in the (conference) championship games will feel at a little less at a disadvantage, I guess, because there are only two days they are still playing that other teams aren’t getting the advantage by being out on the road and recruiting. But on the top of that rule, for it to work, part of it is that you (as a recruit) not cannot take an official visit prior to signing to the school you’re going to sign with. You can take official visits to other schools. But, for example, if a kid is going to come to Mississippi State, and he’s going to sign early, chances are it’s a kid from Mississippi who has been here seven other times on unofficial visits, and he knows this is where he is going to go to school. If he signs in the early period, he can also still take an official visit (to the college he signs with) later on if he wants, but he can’t take one prior (to signing early). The reason for that is that you (as football coaches) don’t have to overload yourself during the season. People say if you do (an early signing period), you’re going to have to move up the recruiting calendar and you’re going to have to have official visits on game weekends every single weekend. Not for the guys who sign early, you don’t. But (under this plan) it also gives an opportunity for a kid who wants to sign early with Mississippi State an opportunity to visit other schools (before Thanksgiving) if he wants. However, if you take an official visit (to a particular school), you can’t (sign with that same school in the early period). You can still go to that school, but you have to wait until the regular signing period (in February). My philosophy behind having that as the rule is that early signing should be a signing period for guys who know where they want to go to school. If we had an early signing day (at Mississippi State this past year), I couldn’t give you an exact number but I would guess at least 50-percent of our class would’ve signed on that day. Now with rest of recruiting, not that you’re not going to visit those kids (that signed early because) you’re still going to check on them and make sure their academics and everything is in order, but you’re probably doing a little less babysitting of those kids, which saves budget money for your program. It lets you get ahead with some other guys (seniors who aren’t signed), and maybe find out more information on younger players. And it gives the guys who want to wait until (the February) signing day so they can take all of their visits the opportunity to do that after the season ends. And for the guys that want to sign early, the (early signing period around Thanksgiving) allows them to do it without a rush.  If you have it in July or August, you’ll have guys who have never taken an official visit, yet they are signing with colleges. That’s the idea I like. But you might find 15 different proposals on how early signing should go. You will probably find it split evenly between the 15 different proposals on what everybody thinks is right. A lot of people think other ones are completely wrong, so that’s why it struggles to get approved.”

Notre Dame's Brian Kelly

Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly

Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly: “The (recruiting) clock has definitely moved up in terms of guys making decisions. I think if a guy has made their decision, and they are firm about it and they are mature about it, I think they should be allowed to sign early in December … I would do it just like the junior college early signing day, which is around Dec. 12. And I think you go with it, and those guys that are committed and ready to make that decision, you get them out of the way. … There doesn’t seem to be a unanimous feeling across the board (about how to do it), but I’ve been on that train (for an early signing period) for a long time. I think I stand with only a few people. But that has been my one big (rule suggestion in recruiting), that they should have an early signing day.”

Miami’s Al Golden: “I feel strongly about an early signing period. I think we should have three signing days. The first signing day would be prior to Labor Day as you’re going into your senior year of high school. I would say close to 50-percent of the pool is done (with kids committed to colleges) by then. So we should go ahead and have an early signing day, and (the colleges will) know who is left in the pool (of available prospects). It would be very cost effective for all the institutions and all the athletic departments … These are the most prominent kids. They know where they are going coming out of camp season or their junior year of high school or long before that. It’s (a situation where) either their dream school has offered them, or they’ve always wanted to go to that certain college. (The second group’s) opportunity to sign would be right before Christmas, Dec. 22 or Dec. 23, right in that window. That’s the type of student-athletes we see the most after (the first group). This group knows where they want to go by Christmas. Obviously, every time we have a signing day, we are verifying the pool, and thus saving our expenses. Finally, the last signing day for the third group would be where it is now in February … Most people on the outside don’t understand that there are six opportunities for contact in December and January. Even if a kid is committed, as a coach, you go see him … For instance, our quarterback this year from California was committed but you have to go out there six times to see him. And it costs a lot of money to do that. And you send your recruiting coach, your position coach, your coordinator and whatever the case may be. But if that kid wanted to come to Miami and had the opportunity to sign early, then it would be very cost effective for everybody for involved. So that’s what I would like to see come to fruition, to do at least two signing day windows and perhaps three …”

Hugh Freeze of Ole Miss: “(My first preference is for the NCAA to make the rules where colleges can’t offer, recruit or sign a kid until August of his senior year in high school). I think the next best thing to help us with the drama that goes on with recruiting is to allow kids after Aug. 1 (of their senior year) to be able to go ahead and sign. It would save us a lot of time and money — and probably the families are worn out by this process. That’s if they (the kids) know where they want to go, and I like the provision to allow them to get out of it if there’s a coaching change. I would support that.”

FSU's Jimbo Fisher

FSU’s Jimbo Fisher

FSU’s Jimbo Fisher: “I think you need official visits as juniors like they do for basketball. I think you need a junior contact and junior recruiting. And I think you need an early signing period … I’d like to see the (head) coaches back on the road (in the spring), and I’d like to have an official contact (with recruits) during the spring (of their junior year in high school) because those kids are all making critical decisions. I think you need a contact in there, and I think you need a visit as a junior like basketball  …”

Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson: Click here

Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin

Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin

Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin: “I think there needs to be an early signing period for a number of reasons. Because of how recruiting works now, many juniors and sophomores have the means to get to camp. They get to know coaches, they know where they want to go to school, and they commit. And what happens is that the whole month of January, my nine coaches and myself are running around the country going to high schools every week because we have to do that up until signing day. It’s a waste of money, and it’s a waste of time when we know that a guy is coming here. So financially, it makes sense, whether it’s in conjunction with the junior-college signing period in December or sometime in August before the senior year in high school. Those couple of dates make sense to me … And you know if a guy doesn’t want to sign early, then you know he’s not committed. He’s open for recruiting. I think it clears up the waters for everybody about who is going to take it to the end, and it will save money.”

Note: All of the coaches who are mentioned above either suggested or supported a special provision for student-athletes who signed early which would give them a release from their letter of intent if there was a coaching change between the early period and regular February period.

Finally, the NCAA committee that has the early signing period on the agenda for June is the Conference Commissioners Association (CCA), a 32-member panel of Division I conference commissioners. They are the only people with the power to change the current rules because they manage the signing periods for all sports.

If any changes were made to football’s signing period, it would likely not be effective immediately, according to Peal.

“This would be one because of how many are involved and how many it impacts, along with the education needed and the changes in recruiting calendar, I would say there’s not going to be any type of immediate effective date,” she said. “It would definitely take time for the adjustment.”

Now it’s YOUR turn: If were you in charge of the NCAA, what is your best idea on how to do an early signing period? Please post below. (I must confess that I was initially in favor of an early signing period, but after listening to all the different ideas from coaches, the current system, despite some flaws, doesn’t seem as bad anymore. But I do like Jimbo Fisher’s idea about letting the head coaches get back out on the road for the spring evaluation period)

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– By Michael Carvell, AJC’s Recruiting Blog

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