MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — College football stands on the verge of enacting the early signing period that coaches and recruiting coordinators have long favored.
Under a recommendation from the Collegiate Commissioner’s Association, next Dec. 16 would begin a 72-hour early signing period for football prospects—stealing some of the drama from February’s national signing day. That’s fine with schools, who only disagree on how early to let recruits sign. (The SEC favored the Monday after Thanksgiving, and the ACC, in a move that would completely revamp the recruiting schedule, pitched Aug. 1.)
If approved by commissioners this spring, the mid-December signing period would be given a two-year trial. Who gains and who loses from the proposal sounds circumstantial.
“I’m not sure that there are big-school benefits or small-school benefits,” said West Virginia director of player personnel Ryan Dorchester. “But it certainly makes those first few December weekends pretty important.”
More questions to consider:
Why do coaches want it?
Because it makes their lives easier in January. Assistants typically spend the month trying to retain longstanding commitments by fending off outside schools making a last-ditch charge. (Of course, some of the same coaches who complain are themselves trying to flip kids committed to other programs.)
Locking down a portion of the class before Christmas reduces the necessity of babysitting 20-plus prospects by allowing coaches to focus solely on the recruits who are legitimately up in the air.
But wouldn’t the frenzy simply shift to December?
To some degree, yes, the madness would only be expedited. But with the NCAA regular season stretching through the first weekend of December, and bowl preparations starting soon after, the unabated focus on flipping commits would be diminished because of a compressed timetable.
How do prospects feel about an early signing period?
The ones who are 100-percent committed presumably would embrace the chance to make their signings official and pre-empt another 45 days’ worth of calls from competing schools.
However, one Big 12 assistant who downplayed the Wild West reputation of late-cycle recruiting, said outside schools already have a sense of what kids are “in play” and which ones aren’t budging.
“The kids have control over that, and they can shut it down,” he said.
Rivals writer Keenan Cummings, who covers recruiting for WVSports.com, isn’t convinced a high percentage of blue-chip prospects will sign in December.
“I think the top players will still wait, because they like the attention,” he said.
Why Dec. 16?
Because that’s the same date midyear junior college enrollees can sign.
Will it help curb recruiting budgets?
Some savings could be realized, because coaches won’t be traveling to see as many prospects during January. But there’s a sense that schools may simply double-down by committing more resources to the smaller pool of top players left unsigned.
Will schools assume more academic risk?
West Virginia has become more rigid the past two years about declining to sign players who are academic risks. The qualifiers are easier to project in February.
Dorchester said an early signing period, which occurs before some high schools finalize their December grades, could force a decision on borderline players.
Will national all-star games urge players to withhold announcements for TV’s sake?
Early signings could undercut the recruiting drama from the Under Armour, U.S. Army and Semper Fi games staged in early January. Might all-star organizers become more adamant that players prolong the mystery for the sake of ratings?
“That’s a possibility, because that’s the main reason why people watch those games—to see the players announce,” Cummings said. “It’s certainly not to see high school kids who have been practicing together for a week wallow around the field. Those games are not good football.”
How might early signings have impacted West Virginia recently?
Cummings pointed to former three-star offensive lineman Josh Krok, who committed to the Mountaineers in June 2013 but flipped to Kentucky in January 2014.
While a December signing date might have pre-empted Krok’s change of schools, it also might have stopped West Virginia from flipping Arizona commits Mario Alford and Brandon Golson on signing day in 2013.
“It will be interesting to see the impact, especially for commitments who don’t want to sign early,” Cummings said. “How is a school going to react to a player taking other visits once he’s committed? Some schools don’t have any tolerance for it—if you visit another school then they consider you decommitted. West Virginia has been lenient with high-end players but not so lenient with others.”
What about schools changing head coaches?
That’s tricky. Take the situation unfolding at Michigan, which has only six commitments but finds Jim Harbaugh and his new staff trying to mount a late haul.
An FBS recruiting staffer suggested early signings would have killed the Wolverines this year, because most of the kids they’re trying to pry loose from other commitments “would already be off the table.”
Athletics directors already are cognizant of bringing aboard their new hires in advance of February signing day—witness the Dec. 4 hirings of Florida’s Jim McElwain and Nebraska’s Mike Riley, and Oregon State filling Riley’s vacancy with Gary Anderson only a week later.
With signing day moved up to Dec. 16, there’s the potential for more in-season firings in order to allow ADs a jump on their back-channel coaching searches.