IT Blog: Early Bird Gets the Recruit?

Programs, such as Oklahoma and Texas A&M, attempt to get a head start in recruiting by offering scholarships to juniors before Signing Day. Should Texas follow suit?

Ironically, Mack Brown is facing a monster he helped create. The 10th-year Longhorn coach is credited for accelerating the timetable within the Big 12 by which high school prep stars are offered scholarships. Texas currently has 19 commitments, including a pair of Five Stars. Likewise, Brown had 19 commitments at the end of April, 2006 and would eventually ink 25. It begs the question: if your class is at least three-quarters complete before May, how much earlier should a program offer a potential signee?

Just ask Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione, whose program -- just like Oklahoma -- held its first Junior Day prior to the February 7 National Signing Day.

"I don't think there's any doubt in this state that you have to go early," Franchione said during the Big 12 Spring Football Teleconference two weeks ago. "It may be because we have so many schools within our state that have such great high school football and (collegiate) coaches are able to do such a great job of identifying (talent) a little bit earlier. I really believe young men are starting to identify earlier, too. Kids are much more prepared to make decisions and are starting to look ahead and make visits. In this information age, students know who's visiting, what positions are available and where they would fit in better than ever before."

A big problem with accelerating the time frame, Brown argues, is that it becomes more difficult to evaluate talent. It also increases the likelihood, he said, of more de-commitments. (Just ask the Aggies). Brown also wants to preserve the integrity of Signing Day (for high school seniors) by not holding his first Junior Day until the following weekend.

The flipside is that Oklahoma landed a couple of Five-Star recruits (Gilmer RB Justin Johnson, Fossil Ridge DE R.J. Washington) before Texas held its first Junior Day on February 11. If a highly-touted junior qualifies for your program and is interested in signing, why tell him to wait another month or three?

This is an issue I can argue either way. My first choice is that Division-I football implement an early Signing Day (in December) using the Junior College Signing Day as its prototype. It's a move that Brown has publicly supported. This way, youngsters who have always dreamed of playing only for a specific school can sign on the dotted line just before Winter Break. It would obviously go a long way toward forcing more thoughtful decisions and reducing the potential number of de-commits.

Short of an early signing period, however, the Division-I landscape is changing to where I think Texas must eventually offer a can't-miss prospect as early as the fall of his junior year (assuming he fits Brown's recruiting profile). But I'd like for Brown to try to delay the inevitable for as long as he can.

I like how Brown has tried to take control of the recruiting process by not allowing ego-inflated, 17-year olds to hold his program hostage. Throughout the years, some kids have made multiple demands of Longhorn coaches as a pre-condition to a commitment, including guarantees of playing time, jersey numbers, as well as the day and manner in which he intended to publicly announce. Brown wants to look a kid in the eye (not to mention taking a good, hard look at his transcripts) before popping the question. Brown is convinced he can continue to sign the caliber of talent he's been bringing to Austin without accelerating the timetable to where he feels he must offer players who "aren't shaving yet" just to maintain the competitive edge.

As much as anything else, Brown at least wants to wait until the ink dries on a particular class' Letter of Intent before extending offers to the next group. (This past year, the interim lasted all of three days).

"So far," Brown said, "it's working."

Brown's level of success in this area is unprecedented at the Forty Acres since scholarship limits were implemented more than quarter-century ago. Let him work it his way.

What do you think?

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