Traditionally football has always used the first Wednesday in February as it's annual signing date but with so many early commitments now, it makes sense to do the same thing that basketball does, which is to have a signing period right before the season begins.
Of course this will probably eliminate any sort of vacation for the coaches, but it could help the process from being so cutthroat.
Commitments, after all, are not binding. There is no honor in recruiting with the possible exception of Tyrone Willingham, who seems to respect a kid and his family's decision to end the recruiting process. There are actually some schools that are already full with regard to their number of scholarship slots, so recruiting for the next six months is just a matter of holding on for them.
The whole process has been sped up to the point where you usually have about half of your spots filled by the end of summer. An early signing period gives coaches a chance to protect those commitments by locking them up with signatures.
Many teams fill up by the end of summer and then merely attack the top remaining uncommitted elite players. USC and Florida are classic examples of the rich getting richer with both sporting as many as 15-20 commitments to date. I remember many people saying how Pete Carroll really out-recruited the Huskies on Steve Schilling even though he lost him to Michigan.
No one mentioned that USC only had one or two spots left open throughout December and January, which freed up Coach Carroll to personally recruit a few elite players like Schilling.
In order to move to an early signing period, football would have to take the month of June as an additional visitation period. With 55 allowable visits every year, schools could easily bring in 25-30 players during June and still have the month of July to maybe allow coaches to be with their families for important vacations and family activities. This would further eliminate all the cheating that goes with the camps and combines and the pressure to get kids onto your campus so you can openly recruit them.
Camps are way out of control in many places in the country with many colleges giving high school coaches paid inducements to get them to bring their kids to those schools camps.
Camps have further turned into tryouts with everyone testing and measuring every single kid even though they are only interested in the very best. I know that Nebraska used to give door prizes at their annual clinics and many times the winners just happened to be the coaches of the top players they were after. I also know that of all the early commitments we used to get, almost all of them attended our annual summer camp. As former director of that camp, I can tell you with all honesty that it was designed as a recruiting tool. If a kid was any good you can bet I spend a lot of time selling him on our program. There were times when we signed as many a 10-12 kids right out of our camp when I was the recruiting coordinator.
With that in mind, we even began to hold junior camps just so we could be first in getting into a kid's mind that playing in Husky Stadium was a worthwhile goal. I know that Carl Bonnell attended our camp as an 8th grader and may have played a role in convincing him to attend Washington (even though he started out at WSU). That is the way it works particularly with home grown talent.
Camps also give Colleges great opportunities to give away their colors in the form of t-shirts, shorts, and other apparel that the kids wear throughout the year. It all works and I promise you that every really good kid always wins some sort of camp award and recognition. Consequently, camps have become for football what summer basketball tournaments have become for that sport - a big part of the recruiting process. What used to be week long team oriented camps have now become 1, 2, or 3 day tryouts and recruiting camps.
Consequently, kids are being recruited heavily in the spring of their junior and even sophomore years to simply attend camps. After establishing relationships, then text messaging and cell calls generated by the kids themselves become the means of communication. The legal day in which to call a kid has always been the 1st of September prior to the start of their senior year. This technological change has allowed for college coaches to begin recruiting kids earlier.
This brings me back to my argument of just signing them before they begin their senior season.
It used to be that we really wanted to see how a kid played his senior season both in person and on tape. Now they send you the CD and the evaluations are almost finished before they even play as seniors. That's just they way it is and explains why so many kids commit early. That and the old saying about "a bird in the hand" explain why so many kids commit as soon as the school they like offers.
Another benefit to the schools is that it would eliminate kids from tripping just for the parties and attention when they had no intention of ever going to your school.
As a father and former coach I really know how much the football coaches need the month of July to spend with their families. That being said, I do know that an early signing period might cut into this. But if you could lock up and not have to worry about someone raiding your commitments, is that trade off worth it? Maybe.
Where early commitments really can hurt is when it comes to the character assessment part of your evaluation process. You want to know what kind of a leader a kid becomes his senior year, how he interacts with his team mates and fellow classmates, how he commits himself to his studies, his team, and his body. You certainly don't want to deter anything away from his team but I realize many kids lose their incentive once they receive their offer. I saw this happen with Craig Chambers when he signed as a receiver with the Huskies. He was a state level track athlete who immediately quit and decided not to turn out for track his senior year. That was an indication of things to come because he refused to show up for summer workouts and even though he had a ton of athletic ability made little to no progress the six months before he enrolled at Washington. This put him behind the eight ball and he never really caught up. He temporarily lost his drive and fell into disfavor with his coaches. He ended up transferring because he never got out of the dog house. He had unfortunately rested on his laurels.
I hate to face it, but the senior year has lost much of its importance in the recruiting process, with the obvious exception of academics. The Huskies have lost a number of signees over the past few years simply because once they had their scholarship, they lost their incentive in both the classroom and the weight room. This was really apparent with some of the JC kids who failed to qualify academically or reported overweight and out of shape. Coach Willingham is currently enrolling most of his incoming recruits in summer school in order to help them adjust and get acclimated to the work and atmosphere of playing at the collegiate level. That's another thing that was totally unheard of years ago.
Everything has been moved up, including enrollment into the school.
Looking at the big picture, its hard to not accept the facts that recruiting has changed. It may be time for an early signing period in football to keep up with and reflect the acceleration of the recruiting process.
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