The challenge of recruiting college football players has become as much about holding onto athletes who have committed to a program early in the recruiting period as it is about swaying those who remain undecided late in the process.
But now, if some college football coaches have their way, the game of holding onto recruits while possibly poaching others could have less time to play out. The NCAA is considering implementing an early signing period for football.
Signing dates for 2014-15
Early » Nov. 13-20
Regular » April 16-May 21
Midyear JC transfer » Dec. 18-Jan. 15
Regular » Feb. 5-April 20
Field hockey, soccer, track and field, cross country, men’s water polo » Feb. 5-Aug. 1
All other sports
Early » Nov. 13-20
Regular » April 16-Aug. 1
The early signing period wouldn’t replace the traditional February signing date but would merely let football fall in line with other sports such as basketball that have an early signing period.
The move will be considered by the Conference Commissioners Association when it meets June 6-8 in Newport Beach, Calif.
Reasons for the push include a desire to let athletes who are certain where they want to attend go ahead and sign and to save institutions money.
Most coaches are for the move — they just can’t seem to settle on the ideal date.
The ACC recently announced it was in favor of an early signing date of Aug. 1, an idea that was immediately shot down by Alabama coach Nick Saban, who supports an early signing date of Dec. 1 so athletes would have their senior season to showcase their improvement.
Closer to home, Utah State coach Matt Wells isn’t so much concerned about the possible date for an early signing period — he supports the concept — as much he wonders what it could mean for recruiting.
Often, schools that receive an oral commitment from an athlete must keep recruiting that athlete to ensure he stays committed.
The old standard that a commitment was as good as a signed piece of paper is nonexistent in today’s what-have-you-done-for-me-lately recruiting world. Recruiting expert Tom Lemming notes in Maxpreps.com that almost 50 percent of the early verbals from the class of 2007 failed to stick with their original commitments.
An early signing date might prevent so much shuffling. But it could also work the other way. What if a big school fails to sign its blue-chippers early and cherry-picks recruits destined for mid-major teams?
"You could have a lot of schools jumping on guys and it could get crowded," Wells said. "But overall I think it’s a good idea."
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has experienced both sides as his program has grown from the mid-major ranks to the BCS.
Like Wells, he is in favor of the move, but isn’t sure of the best time for it.
"One thing to consider is if they modify the recruiting rules for official visits," he said. "A lot of players don’t have the means to fly around and visit places on their own, so it makes sense if there is an early signing period, players could make their official visits the spring of their junior year."
As it stands now, prospects are not allowed to make official visits until Sept. 1 of their senior years.
Whittingham believes schools could save money with an early signing period because schools could lock in recruits willing to sign early rather than continue to recruit them to make sure others don’t swoop in and woo recruits away.
Whittingham estimates about half of Utah’s signing class would sign early if given the chance.
"With a smaller pool of athletes available after the early signing date, it would take less expense and travel to recruit them," he said. "But the competition for them will be tough."
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