Would an early signing period benefit Cougs?

EVERY YEAR THE CRY for an early signing period in football seems to grow louder. But those opposing such a move seem to be growing in volume too. Should there be an early signing period? Would it be better for the Cougs? We take a closer look at the issues and render an opinion…

First, you have to look at the pros. There are several but we'll focus on the big two.

An early signing period would allow schools to get guys on board and not worry about them being poached towards the end. Many of the so-called big-money programs are against an early signing period because it would keep them from chasing recruits late after they lose out on someone higher on their board.

Consider a school that gains a verbal commitment in April. They spend the entire rest of the year staying on him, a huge outlay of effort and expense. Another school later on, having missed out on the guys they had higher on the board, starts to only truly recruit him late, in December or January. But they nonetheless gain his verbal and subsequent signature. The school who did so much work is left out in the cold, with their Plan 1A's at that spot long since having verballed elsewhere.

An early signing period would also allow coaches to focus more on coaching. For every prospect they have in hand, that also diminishes or even eliminates the need for said coach to recruit the others at his position. Those two reasons are very compelling in arguing for an early signing period.

HOW ABOUT THE CONS to an early signing period? There are many.

Some say the big-money programs will have a natural advantage, especially in obtaining more early-season official visits. College coaches will have to juggle more official visits during game weeks than they do already. Recruits will be hung out to dry when a coach leaves in December. A recruit's senior grade transcripts won't be available. Recruits wanting to take more early-season official visits will face more difficulties due to schedule. Recruits would also face pressure from big-money schools, in a variety of ways, to visit and/or sign with their school.

RECENT DISCUSSIONS on an early signing period have focused on December and only to those prep prospects who have completed their senior years. The take here is that's a decidedly half-measure type of solution. It doesn't well enough address the issues at hand.

With the pointed reminder that there are downsides to every possible avenue of change, here's our solution. And we offer two of them, an either/or solution.

Option No. 1: From the third Wednesday in October until Signing Day, a recruit is allowed to sign his LOI at any time between then and February. The obvious problem here will be the pressure placed on a recruit to do so by a school. And there are other arguments against this, mostly with what it would do to his high school season. But at the end of the day, in our book, the positives outweigh the negatives. For a recruit wanting his moment in the sun, they would actually see more of that than now. Full disclaimer: Sites like this one would benefit, since there would also at times be a signing to report on in addition to a verbal. Coaches would benefit by having the recruit locked up, unable to be poached. One "out" would exist for the recruit, as expressed below.*

Option No. 2: The early signing day would be held on the third Wednesday of October (so around the halfway point of the season) and the early signing period would end that Saturday. In order not to lose the PR that comes with National Signing Day, (and also to allow staffs to better focus on recruiting) every FBS school and conference would be prevented from scheduling games that week. Additional benefits are that every school now gets a bye week in the middle of the season, and the conferences can schedule the other bye, if/as they see fit, for their members schools on a Saturday that works for them.

There would be limits on the number of total official visitors a school can have to this point, so as to level the playing field. There would also be some combination of official visits allowed during spring ball and in mid-to-late June to allow prospects who would not be able to as easily trip up when the season starts. *If a college coach leaves, a prospect who signed early with that school can re-open his recruitment without penalty but there will still be common sense conditions, such as those who took 3-4 official visits could take 1-2 more, (no more than five total in any situation.) The biggest problem is the effect this would have on a high school season. For example, guaranteed there would be players/parents who would want to shut down their senior season and not risk injury after signing.

Official visits, from this chair, are one of the least compelling arguments not to enact an early signing day or period, particularly in-season trips. While it's ideal for a prospect to see the game day atmosphere and attend a game, official trips have progressed to the point they are not representative of a typical weekend of college life. From the coaching standpoint, they would much rather be focused on the task at hand, winning the game, and staffs often cap the number of visitors so they can spend adequate time with them. Further, some high school coaches hate their guys taking off that weekend, and believe it hurts their in-week preparation. Having official visit weekends for spring ball and in mid-June, while not perfect, provide more benefit than negatives.

THE BIGGEST TAKEAWAY when it comes to an early signing period is this: there are no perfect solutions, at least none that we can see. In the ultimate decision of yes or no – as well as within each and every tenet – there are strong, cogent arguments that can be made against it.

Few, if any, would be completely satisfied with any potential method of change. But doing nothing only leads back to the current situation, one that some call the best of all the bad choices. But in our view, even though there isn't a perfect fix, there are more benefits to the recruits by having an early signing period. The same holds true for the coaches. And for Washington State.

NOTABLE NOTE:
About 75 percent of FBS coaches support an early signing period, according to a survey by the Football Recruiting Subcommittee of the NCAA Leadership Council. The problem, as you can guess from reading this article, is what form it would take.

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