SEC Coaches not together on early signing day

DESTIN, FL – Officially, on your calendars at home, February is National Cancer Prevention Month. For college football coaches, it's National Childcare Month; most of January is too, in fact.

The first Wednesday of each February is national signing day, the only time college football teams can officially lock up the players who have been committed to them for, in some cases, more than a year.

"The last two or three weeks at least there is a lot of babysitting going on," Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer said.

The amount of time and money coaches spend trying to close the deal with players who already have announced their attention to play for that coach has pushed the issue of a second signing period into the forefront here this week. The Southeastern Conference's 12 football coaches discussed adding an early signing period Tuesday, the first day of the league's annual meetings at the Sandestin Beach Hilton and Resort.

Talk of an additional signing period has increased at the same rate as the number of high school prospects who are making their college choices earlier. Georgia already have ten commitments from players who plan to sign in nine months, including Summerville, S.C., wide receiver A.J. Green, the nation's top prospect at the position.

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson says more schools are making more early scholarship offers than he has ever seen.

"It's not even close," he said. An early signing period "has been brought up and not a lot of people were thrilled about it, but it hasn't been discussed when all these (early) commitments are happening."

With an early signing period, the Bulldogs could sign Green this fall and end any concerns that he might be wooed by another school.

"I'm in favor of an early signing period, and most of my brethren in this conference are not," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said.

That may be changing. The glut of early commitments has led Fulmer and Arkansas coach Houston Nutt to move off their solid no votes on the subject.

"I was against that, but I'm not so sure that might not be a good deal," Nutt said.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt still is an opponent.

"I think the idea of it is pretty good, but I'm afraid what my follow would be more than we asked for," he said. "You've got to be careful what you wish for you. If you get it, does that mean there are earlier official visit weekends? If it's in the middle of the football season, does that mean you spend your time recruiting instead of coaching your own team?"

The most vehement foe remaining in the league is Florida's Urban Meyer, who still is stinging from the NCAA's outlawing of text messaging to communicate with recruits. Meyer's argument is that an early signing period doesn't give coaches enough time to build a solid relationship with a high school player.

"I'm not comfortable signing kids you don't know," he said. "I'd rather have it later. Making a mistake in recruiting can just devastate a program and the only way to minimize the chances of making a mistake is getting to know someone."

College basketball has long had two signing periods, one in November and another in April and May, but Florida coach Billy Donovan, one of the nation's best recruiters, isn't sure that's a good system.

"There's a big part of me that would like to see just a late signing period," Donovan said.

Basketball coaches are sometimes forced to extend a scholarship offer before they are completely comfortable with a player due to the early period, Donovan said. A coach who waits until after the early period to offer a player risks offending that player, he said.

"I'm almost being forced to make a decision," he said.

While coaches like Meyer say "relationship" what they may mean is "grades," according to Johnson. An early signing period would give schools less time to determine the risk of signing academically at-risk athletes.

"That's probably the biggest hang-up," Johnson said.

On the plus side, a change would save the money schools spend visiting players who already have committed, Johnson and Fulmer said.

When exactly an early signing period for football might be is up for debate. Alabama head coach Nick Saban said most of the coaches' talks Tuesday centered around a December date.

Another option is in September prior to college football seasons, but many high school football coaches are wary of that, Saban said, fearing a high school player with a signed scholarship in hand might choose to coast through his senior season of high school.

A second signing period, regardless of the date, will have unintended consequences, Saban and Richt fear.

"It would just intensify the recruiting effort," Richt said. "You think it's early now? We might be offering guys when they were ninth graders."

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