Early Football Signing Period Up For Vote

Within the next day or two, NCAA football programs may join the vast majority of their brethren in implementing an early signing period for high school seniors.

The Collegiate Commissioners Association, which administers the National Letter of Intent (NLI) program, is meeting in North Carolina this week, and one of the main topics of discussion will be the creation of a three-day signing period in December for college football programs. If the measure is passed, current high school seniors would be able to sign binding NLIs at the time and lock in their college scholarships, as recruits in most other sports do. Currently, only football, water polo and men's and women's soccer do not have early signing periods.

While momentum appears reasonably strong in favor of passage, it's not a fait accompli. The SEC has voiced objection to the proposal, citing conflicts with existing academic and practice schedules, among others. The real reason, of course, is that the SEC wants to keep recruits on the hook as long as possible, knowing that many players will delay committing while waiting for offers from SEC power schools, which can then swoop in with late offers and take committed recruits from other schools.

While some objections raised may have some validity, none of the concerns mentioned have raised issues in other sports, such as basketball. There, many recruits lock in their commitments in the early November signing period (often during their senior playing seasons), and that has not caused much, if any, angst for coaches and players. In fact, there are two benefits to early signing periods that outweigh any concerns.

The first, and altruistically the most important, is the ending of the recruiting process for the player. While not everyone has made up his mind as to a school destination by the mid-point of their senior year, many have. Those players should be able to finalize their decision and end the recruiting process. Granted, some try to shut down the flood of communications, but any coach worth his salt is going to continue to stay in contact with players they recruited right up until signing day, in the hopes of earning the coveted "flip" of a commitment. That's the thing the SEC, the acknowledged 800-pound gorilla of recruiting, wants to keep in place. But shouldn't the needs and desires of the recruited player come first?

The second benefit is massive cost and time savings. Take West Virginia, for example. The Mountaineers currently have ten commitments in the Class of 2016, and by December might have its class nearly complete. (Last year, WVU had 17 of its 21 players in the fold before December.) Say 12 of those 17 wanted to end the process and sign early. Get those out of the way, and two months worth of wooing, traveling, visiting, texting and calling are suddenly eliminated from the budget and workload of the coaching staff. Granted, communications aren't going to suddenly go quiet. They'll still stay in contact with their future players. But the vast majority of the time and effort spent to keep those players from flipping will suddenly be off the work schedule. And given WVU's far-flung recruiting areas, the cost savings in travel alone will be worth it.

While these two factors should trump any objections, there are issues still to be ironed out. Some want the early signing period earlier in the year. A radical few want a totally open signing calendar. (That's not likely to pass). But with a simple majority vote required to enact the period (each of the 10 DI conferences, plus a representative of the FCS schools, will vote), it seems likelier than not that the wave of momentum for change in Division I football will push some sort of early signing period into play this winter.

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