The Conference Commissioners Association tabled a proposal in June that would have brought an early signing period – in this case, three days in mid-December – to college football.
Football recruits can sign only in February, making it one of four NCAA-sanctioned sports (along with men’s and women’s soccer as well as water polo) to not utilize an early signing period.
The proposal had a chance to make a profound change to the way National Signing Day is viewed and how recruiting is done in college football, but Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith was among those happy with the decision to table the topic for a year rather than rush into any reforms that might cause unintended consequences down the road.
“(Head coach Urban Meyer) and I were against it, and I was more against it because I felt like we needed to pause and look at the early signing period in relation to everything else we’re talking about,” Smith recently told BuckeyeSports.com as part of a wide-ranging, year-ending interview. “One of the reasons we have some of the challenges we have in college athletics today is we passed this piece of legislation and don’t really understand the impact, then we come back and pass another piece of legislation and as a result of that piece of legislation, you end up with 10 pages around one piece.
“The reality is I think (Big Ten commissioner) Jim Delany and the commissioners did a good job last week by pausing for a minute and kicking it to the new football oversight committee and letting them flesh it out in relation to everything else.”
That is essentially the message that the CCA delivered when the decision was made to revisit the topic at a later date. The new football oversight committee, which is part of the new NCAA governance structure, will look at the proposal and perhaps more sweeping changes including a look at accompanying changes to the recruiting calendar.
“There was support in the room to move forward,” Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher told ESPN.com. “I think we all took a collective deep breath, took a step back and said, ‘Would we be wise to try and do this from a bigger picture type of thing, as opposed to a piecemeal, one bit at a time?’
“There was recognition to sync up this issue with other recruiting-related issues that will be examined by the football oversight committee.”
The proposal was created with the thought of easing the burden on prospects who have been committed to schools for a long period of time but are still contacted by other coaches, and many smaller conferences were in favor of it with the hope it would allow their schools to keep their higher-rated recruits, who sometimes are poached late in the process by Power Five schools who have room in their classes.
However, the SEC was reportedly against the change, while Meyer has said he’s not in favor because it would limit the options of prospects late in the process, and the coach has long said he’s not a fan of the accelerated nature of recruiting.
Smith, who has been at the forefront of changes to modernize the NCAA structure, said he didn’t see the point of rushing into anything.
“For example, I read a report last week where the academics committee was looking at requiring prospective student-athletes to have a transcript submitted to the NCAA clearinghouse before they could be offered, in writing, a scholarship,” Smith said. “So OK, if you have an early signing period, what does that mean time-wise? How does that practically work? Then we read another report that mid-year enrollees have gone up – the January enrollees. The numbers have spiked. So what does that mean? So now because you have kids formally signing in December, does that even drive that number up faster?
“So having that conversation with the practitioners in the room, having surveys, getting feedback from all the coaches around all those issues and more – those are just a few examples – and you look at passing legislation in a package. The graduate transfer issue, there’s a lot of discussion around whether that should be different, so what does that mean? I think you look at all of those issues, come up with a package of legislation based upon feedback from everybody, and then you look at it.”
At some point, it appears there could very well still be a chance for prospective college football players to sign with schools before February. But Smith hopes that happens after a look at all factors at play.
“It was a Band-Aid, and that’s not good,” the OSU AD said. “That’s why we are where we are today (in college athletics). We’ve done a lot of those Band-Aid approaches.”