Pros and Cons to an Early Signing Period for College Football

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Pros and Cons to an Early Signing Period for College Football
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Stanford coach David Shaw has concerns.

College football's calendar year may undergo a pivotal procedural shift as the sport reacts to mounting momentum in the recruiting spectrum. NCAA associate director of operations Susan Peal told ESPN.com reporter Mitch Sherman there are serious plans to review the possibility of adding an early signing period.

Prospective NCAA football players currently sign their national letters of intent on the first Wednesday of February. Players' verbal commitments to programs occur as early as three years in advance, but they're entirely non-binding.

The college football recruiting landscape has undergone significant alterations in recent years as the process continues to expand. From social media communication and on-campus visits to "dead periods" and financial aid agreements, it's an evolving system of guidelines that routinely demands adaption from the NCAA.

Now, the potential shift of when a prospect is able to punctuate his recruitment process enters the crosshairs of the Conference Commissioners Association. The topic will be on the table for discussion when members convene in June.

"I think everyone wants an early signing period," Peal told ESPN.com. "It's just trying to nail down what's the appropriate date for that."

Other sports, including basketball, already institute an early signing period. Student-athletes are formally able to fully commit to collegiate programs in mid-November.

"I think there's more momentum now than ever just because of the changes that are happening with recruiting regulations," Peal said. "The landscape is changing, so it's time to look at it again."

The effort to add an early period is sure to attract a large amount of supporters and detractors alike.

It would require coaching staffs to shuffle their order of doing things—a touchy subject for men who build their resumes through consistency on the field and the recruiting path. The year of a head coach is filled with frenzied stretches in both capacities and an early signing period would merge the madness.

If athletes are able to sign in November, it changes a lot more than you might think.

Coaches, navigating through the most rigorous make-or-break stage of the regular season, would have to place more of an emphasis on players who aren't yet a part of the program. Recruits who are academically cleared to sign early would want to spend time on campus for official visits and feel the love from a staff that's slightly more concerned with beating their conference rival on Saturday than landing a cornerback who might contribute three years down the line.

“I’d be afraid to change it,” Georgia coach Mark Richt told Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Michael Carvell. “I don’t want to turn the regular season into such a recruiting frenzy that you can’t even coach your team on a weekly basis. I enjoy coaching football, too.”

His sentiments are sure to extend to football offices across the country.

Stanford coach David Shaw believes the effort to establish an early signing day is due to coaches' reluctance to allocate substantial resources toward an expansive group of prospects through February.

"People can make whatever argument they want, it boils down to that. ... Coaches don't want to keep recruiting an entire class all year," Shaw told ESPN.com reporter Kyle Bonagura.

Jason Getz/Associated Press
Georgia coach Mark Richt is among opponents to an early signing day.

Unpredictability reigns supreme during the final stretch of every recruiting cycle. Prospect pledges that appeared firm throughout the fall suddenly struggle to survive January, when teams make late efforts to flip commitments.

Some programs benefit from player academic issues during the weeks leading up to February signing day. If it becomes obvious that a recruit could find it difficult to qualify at their school of choice, squads with less stringent grade standards swoop in.

That effort could now begin earlier, far before schools like Stanford can academically clear all incoming student-athletes for admission.

"...They say, 'You don't know if you're getting into Stanford so you got to sign with us,'" Shaw said. "I don't think these kids should be pressured into decisions, and that's what this is all about."

And of course, there's the "if it isn't broke, don't fix it" argument, instituted ad nauseam at colleges throughout America. Many coaches and administrators are extremely comfortable with the way things are currently constructed.

"I know the [Southeastern Conference] coaches are not in favor of changing the recruiting calendar," Kentucky coach Mark Stoops told ESPN.com in January. "If things start moving up, it changes the way we've been doing things for a long time."

Others will assert that change is exactly what is necessary.

Senior high school students are swept up in nationwide recruitment craziness during the final months leading up to February, whether they're committed to a university or not. By signing in November, they would be rewarded for work on the field and in the classroom with early security for the future.

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If a program is willing to fully invest in a teenager for four to five years by extending a scholarship to a high school sophomore, there shouldn't be alarming concern if that pact becomes official two-and-a-half months ahead of schedule. The athlete can then finish his senior season without worrying about last-ditch sales pitches, recruiting misdirection or fielding 50 phone calls per day.

In turn, it would free up coaches to concentrate on the wave of prospects set to sign on the traditional February date. A staff could also begin to piece together its spring camp roster with more concrete assurances of who will be on campus.

We've become accustomed to tracking high-profile recruits who command attention with flashy official visits, cryptic tweets and elaborate nationally televised announcement ceremonies. Still, there are hundreds of other NCAA-bound football players who simply want to put pen to paper and move on.

An early signing day seems to favor the majority of student-athletes. In an era defined by refinement that favors the fairness and comfort of these young standouts, don't be surprised if coaches' concerns continue to contradict the direction the NCAA aims to head.

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