What do some of college football’s top coaches think about the proposal for an early signing period?
The proposal, which has a decent chance of passing, will be considered this June by an NCAA-related committee – the Collegiate Commissioners Association (CCA), which consists of the 32 commissioners of Division I.
If adopted, the new early signing period would take affect later this year for 2016 recruits, an NCAA spokesman told the AJC. There would be a 72-hour signing period beginning on Dec. 16, along with the football’s regular signing period in February.
What do some of college football’s top coaches think about the proposal? There are a lot of different opinions, to say the least.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze: “I’m not for the December early signing period. I think that’s a bad idea. I’ve been very vocal about that. The high school coaches are going to hate us. Kids are going to go on four or five visits during the season. They’re going to come back on late Sunday night, and be awful for their high school team because all of us are going to try to lock them up in the early signing period now.” How would you do it differently? “You know what I want? I wish that if a kid commits to us, and we’re truly committed to him, I’d like to send him the papers right then. And you will find out who is really committed on both sides. I would say start this in August of his senior year. If a kid is committed to you, you can send them the papers to sign. You will find out really quickly which schools are committed to which kids, and which schools are committed to which kids. We’ll stop all the shenanigans about the lack of commitment, and what commitment really means. If we can’t have that, we need to have an August signing period because the high school coaches would support that. The kid has the scholarship, it’s his hands, he knows where he is going, and he can play his heart out for his high school and not have to worry about (all the recruiting). With the December proposal for an early signing period, the high school coaches are going to hate us.”
South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier: “I’ve got mixed emotions on it. I don’t particularly like it because I think we’re going to be recruiting during the season again. I think a lot of high school kids are going to have their name in the paper every week about what school they are going to pick instead of the newspapers writing about the players on our current team right now. And I’ve always felt like during the season, that time should belong to the players on your team. Then there is time for recruiting before and after the season. But I think they are going to go ahead and pass it (the early signing period). That’s fine. We’ll live with it.”
LSU’s Les Miles: “The proposed early signing period to me does not need to change in any way the calendar for the prospect or for the colleges. There should be no extra visitation, no extra home visits, no extra anything. Because what happens is, if you go look around, we have 12 to 16 guys committed right now. If you look around the country, people have anywhere from six to 25 committed. Those guys should be able to sign binding letters of intent on what would be the first Wednesday prior to Dec. 1. In other words, the last weekend in November without the official visit to the campus. In other words, let’s just say 10 players want to go to LSU. They’ve known that their whole life. Their family went there. Their brothers went there. There’s really no other place they want to go. They’ve not have an official visit, and they’ve committed. They would love to sign as soon as they could. Let’s give them that opportunity … To me, that’s what the prospect wants, and that’s what the college wants. You don’t have to increase the evaluations, and you don’t have to increase the visits. You can do it exactly the way it’s set up now. If a guy is going to sign early, he doesn’t take an official visit until after he signs. Then he takes an official visit sometime in December. He shows up and has a nice weekend. And that’s it. You save the pretense of recruiting for four other schools. He doesn’t take four other visits. To me, that is the smartest and most applicable way.”
Tennessee’s Butch Jones: “I’m very, very supportive of the SEC’s version of the early signing date (which was for the first Monday after Thanksgiving). I think it protects the young man, and I think it helps the institution as well. And I think it really helps sort through the commitments, and makes the institution accountable. But it also makes the young man accountable. What it does is that helps you understand and evaluate – is that commitment true? I really do like the SEC’s version. I think it was very, very well-thought out. I think it’s very healthy for college football.” What do you specifically like about the SEC’s version? “It’s right around the junior-college signing date. But what it is, is a young man going into his senior year, if he’s committed to you, it allows him to sign in early December only if he does not take an official visit. So what that does is that it eliminates official visits during the season. And then obviously if he goes and takes other visits, then you know that he’s truly not committed to your institution. So again, it allows you to sign him in early December if he has not taken an official visit. So if we have an individual who has grown up loving Tennessee and he wants to sign early, that’s great. Then he will be able to have his official visit once he signs.”
UGA’s Mark Richt: “I don’t know about an early signing period. I just don’t know how that would affect our recruiting calendar. I think there are always unintended consequences when you change rules — or if you make a new one. And I think it’s just the uncertainty of what it would do to that recruiting calendar, as far as speeding things up even more than how they are today.” What would be unintended consequences? “I do think coaches want to coach their team during the season — and make sure we’re doing everything we can to be prepared for our ballgames and for our season. Moving up the signing date might increase the number of official visits in the season. People might start wanting to do official visits in the summer. I just don’t know what would happen with any unintended consequences with that decision.”
Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson: “I think it’s good. I’d find a time once they finish their junior year of high school. Everybody got 85 total scholarships, and you’d have 25 you could sign every year. If the kids wanted to sign, they could go ahead and sign. If they didn’t qualify, you lost the scholarship. It would stop all the foolishness with committing. If you didn’t want to sign early, you wouldn’t have to do it. There’s nothing that says ‘I’ve got to sign early.’ You could go all the way up until February if you wanted. But the guys who want to sign and have been committed for 18 months, and know they want to go to school there, this will take care of that. It would help everybody. It would stop all the foolishness. When a kid went in and said ‘I’m committing,’ then the college would say ‘OK, here (are the papers to sign).’ And then (on the flip side), it would stop the colleges from making a billion bogus offers. (Nowadays) it’s like ‘You’ve got an offer from us, but it’s non-committable.’ What is that? I mean, if you went in and said ‘OK, you’ve got an offer.’ And the kid said, ‘OK, I want to sign.’ (Doing it this way) would stop the foolishness both ways.”
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney: “I have been huge proponent of an early signing period for a while. It’s interesting because it has gotten more conversation as of late. We had a lot of discussion as coaches on it at the convention back in January. I personally would like to do it on August 1. I don’t think you have to make any changes in the calendar or anything like that. Again, we had 19 guys committed last August. I think it would just clean up a lot of the culture that we have out there – de-commits, commits, coaches offering guys and not taking them. Some coaches offer kids, then they continue to recruit others, then they call a guy and back out on him at the last minute. Things like that, I think a lot of that bad culture would go away (with an early period). And I think a lot of the early commitments would go away. I think if you had it on August 1, if a guy committed, then that university is going to expect him to sign in August. If he doesn’t sign, then you know he’s not committed. So I think some of those guys wouldn’t commit early because they really are not committed. I personally think (an early signing period) would be a great thing, and it would clean it all up. I think it would help the high school coaches. It would get the recruiting out of the way, so the kids can focus on their senior years. The kids don’t have to worry about injuries and things like that (because they’ve signed). It would take out a lot of the garbage after a (college) team loses a game. Everybody will call the kid and say ‘Do you still want to go to that school?’ It’s just a bad culture, to be honest with you. And we’re the only sport without an early signing period. I’ve never understood that. The big thing is that people say ‘It’s not fair to the player. What if the coach leaves?’ My thing on that is that it’s very simple: You have an early signing period in August, and that is simply for the guys who know what they want to do. They can get it behind them, and move on. It’s a win-win situation. (An early period) might help some of those college coaches, too. You’ve got a good class committed – it might create a little more patience, knowing that if they want to fire that guy. It might be ‘Hey, maybe we should give this guy one more year because he’s got a really good class signed.’ I don’t know where it’s going to go. Everybody keeps talking that if we have an early signing period, it’s going to be in December. I would prefer August. But if it’s December, that’s better than nothing. So at least we could move on. And we all hear these stories every year where a guy has been committed forever, and the coach calls at the last minute and tells him ‘Oh, you’ve got to grayshirt’ or ‘Oh, I don’t have a spot for you now.’ That part would be gone, too. Some of these offers that people are putting out there, they are not really offers. And so again, it’s all created a bad culture that I think we could clean up.”
Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy: “I think an early signing period will be good for college football. Years ago, it came across our desk. I would like to see one in the first of June, and also in December. I feel like it’s very good for our budgets. If you have a young man who is committed to your school, he might as well go ahead and sign. If he doesn’t sign, then that means he is not really committed. Then we won’t spend that much time traveling to that particular location. It’s time and money, airplane flights, rental cars, and hotels. It’s good for the budgets of your athletic departments, but it’s also good for if a young man is already signed up … if there’s any temptations for coaches late to try to do something that wouldn’t really be within the rules, there wouldn’t be any reason to do it because he’s already signed. I think it’s a good setup, and I’m encouraged that it will pass. We’ve talked about this a number of years. But I think this time it will happen.”
Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops: “I like that idea. I like the December date, around the same time that the junior-college guys sign. I think it’s really appropriate because more and more players are coming out of high school early. So this way, they get the opportunity to have their signing day, along with players who just want to get it done. I think it’s a real positive for everybody.”
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema: “I love the early signing period just for two reasons. First, it allows the kid who wants to come and be somewhere to go ahead and sign. It can really be a cost-effective measure that you don’t have to keep recruiting him in December and January. You know, (with the way we do it now) you’re just kind of babysitting him, even though you know he’s coming. You’re just worried that somebody else is working him. I think it’s going to save a tremendous amount of time and dollars for coaches. And then the second thing, and it makes the most sense, it clears up the recruiting process for the people who want to get it cleared up. I think there are too many times where there’s so much time in there, some doubt can begin to creep into those minds of kids where they have been 100-percent committed for so long … and it gets a kid in a bad situation, and just leads to confusion. I think that part is real.”
USC’s Steve Sarkisian: “I think it would take some of the pressure off these kids. You look at (Chuma Edoga), for example. He’s a kid who committed to us in the spring or summer, and he really wanted to end the recruiting process. Because until he signs, guys are to continue to really hound these kids — they are going to continue to hammer him. And if a kid already has his mind made up, and he knows what he wants to do, he just wants to focus on his schoolwork and his football and enjoy the fact that he’s already committed to a university, I don’t have a problem with him having the opportunity to sign a national letter of intent to end that process so that he can focus on the things that are important to him.”
Florida’s Jim McElwain: “Well, it’s one of those deals that as long as everybody is working under the same guidelines, (we’ll deal with it). I think there’s a lot of merit to it. At times, the things that happen to you with a lot of kids, they want to go to a place, so let’s get it over with (and sign early). I think it will really help in the long run, yet part of what happens is going to be tough. Think about us, coming in late (this year after being hired at Florida), how hard that would’ve been for us to get an opportunity to recruit some of these guys (if there was an early signing period). I think it’s one of those things that is needed, but I’m not sure any of us know the ramifications will be once it goes down.” How would you do it differently? “When are you going to be able to get some guys on campus? Obviously, you’re going to have to hustle during the season for your visits. That will be interesting. You know, I’m not sure about the exact best way to do it. I think maybe going into a kid’s senior year (he could sign), if he’s prepared to do that. Maybe an August period is the way to go. And that way you don’t have the distractions for the high school coaches during their season. It will be interesting to see how it all falls out.”
Miami’s Al Golden: “It’s a start. I will take it. I’ve been adamant about it. I think we’re in desperate need for it. I think it kind of reintroduces the word ‘commitment’ to the football coaching community – recruits, along with college and high school coaches. I think it will help clean it up. I think there will be some cost-savings, if you will. But I think it’s a start. I’ve always been a proponent of the Sept. 1 or late August date (for high school seniors). I think that would really clean it up for a lot of different reason because many young men are completing the process before their senior year. If those guys truly want to go a particular university, they can go ahead and sign to move forward with their life. And then we’re seeing a lot of guys come in midyear. I know LSU got in trouble because a kid who signed a financial-aid agreement didn’t end up coming at midyear, which doesn’t seem right. I think obviously having an early signing date at the end of the summer might prevent that.”