The spectacle that is national signing day is real. Business is good.
Networks and other news outlets—recruiting-focused or not—have turned this yearly ritual into an all-day affair. To celebrate, reporters flock to campuses, writers are entrenched in war rooms to cover each and every fax machine fist pump and the coverage is reaching unprecedented levels.
And yet college football’s offseason phenomenon—the cheers, hats and the occasional disapproving parent, all rolled up into one 24-hour stretch—now lacks the unpredictability and drama that seemingly infused its precipitous surge. At the same time, it’s seeing an uptick in eyeballs, dollars and overall interest. The day itself is now basically a televised formality.
There are very good reasons for this. And it starts with you.
Your interest in recruiting has expanded over the past five years. So has the effort you put into finding it. Because of your willingness to seek, watch and click, recruiting coverage had to evolve. There’s money to be made off your desire for more, and someone is going to make it.
The result is a different sort of national signing day, one that hasn't had any major storylines and surprises over the past few years. That’s not to say the day is completely without intrigue, but much of the suspense that used to come with it has fizzled.
There are people—recruiting wizards sending unthinkable text message totals monthly—compensated handsomely to make your national signing day as boring as possible. It’s why some outlets can stand behind a paywall with a puffy chest and a smile; it’s also why many of you will gladly pay to see what’s behind these walls.
Forget about one day. You get your national signing day content served to yearly in smaller, processable portions.
Helping to drive this online movement is social media. Facebook and Twitter have become information hubs capable of delivering 140-character updates at all times. Writers are able to update a player lean at any time, while the players themselves often use this advice to update their current standing if it suits them.
Everyone has upped their game, and the process and information is more out in the open than it has ever been.
Aside from our desire for more, the process of committing is also rapidly evolving. Players choosing to enroll early—once a rare decision—is trending upward. In doing so, they extract all the drama out of this day.
Since 2008, Alabama has had 50 players enroll early, according to Marq Burnett of the Ledger-Inquirer. In this recruiting cycle alone, Tennessee had more than a dozen commits in its superb class arrive for the spring semester.
Instead of sweating out whether a fax will arrive as planned, teams are already molding their 4- and 5-star talents. The decision of “will he or won’t he?” took place months ago. They’re already hard at work, getting acquainted with the scene, the coaches and the transition.
Getting players on campus early allows them to work with the strength coach right away. It also gives them the benefit of having spring football practices—along with the game—to get their feet wet.
For the players, this time is crucial for staking claim on the depth chart. A solid showing in spring could be what jumpstarts meaningful snaps as a freshman. With coaches becoming more willing to play underclassmen, early enrollment will only become more prevalent.
The benefits are mutual, and the movement is going to veer off course. The top talent will continue to arrive on campus early, which means national signing day will lose a significant percentage of the marquee players well before the day approaches.
Of course, the day will still come with intrigue. There will still be the occasional surprise.
Like when 5-star linebacker Rashaan Evans—thought to be a lock for Auburn—announced he would be playing for rival Alabama instead. Or when quarterback Treon Harris, a verbal commit at Florida State heading into signing day, flipped to Florida at the very last moment.
There will also be drama. Parents will differ on where their son should attend college, as they did with defensive end Malik McDowell this national signing day and running back Alex Collins the one before it. This will create delicate personal situations that play out in public, and the social media engines will begin to quake from their slumber.
And yes, players will commit in new and exciting ways. Children, animals and headwear will be used as props to select future destinations. Solomon Thomas, one of the nation’s top defensive linemen in the class, even used a tree to announce that he would attend Stanford next fall.
He also received bonus points for the glasses.
The fun isn’t gone. There will be more cameras, surprises, cheers and more of what helped make this day great. There will also be more viewers, networks and websites—including the one you're visiting right now—will up their efforts to deliver as much national signing day information as you can stomach.
But as the coverage increases and talent continues to flock to schools ahead of schedule, national signing day will become more and more about the spectacle and less about the actual decisions being made. And that's just fine.
Unless otherwise noted, recruiting information provided by 247Sports.