Forget Early Signing, College Football Teams Should Offer Scholarships Later

Michael FelderNational CFB Lead WriterApril 2, 2014

Maryland's head coach Randy Edsall reacts to an officials call in the first half of the Military Bowl against Marshall Friday, Dec. 27, 2013 in Annapolis, Md. Marshall won 31-20.(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Maryland head coach Randy Edsall has officially offered up the best recipe to silence the discussion of scholarship offers coming too early and not being upheld by coaching staffs: move the date back and put the offer in the hands of the schools. Edsall is a quiet voice—he is currently the lone voice—but his voice is one that should certainly draw the ear of those making decisions on how to handle the recruiting process.

The Columbia Tribune is just one of many outlets to point out that the NCAA is actively looking into giving college football an early signing period. The theory, of course, would be it helps athletes wrap up recruiting and guarantees their spot by inking a national letter of intent that ties them to the school of their choice and halts the recruiting process.

Mullen and his Egg Bowl rival are pro early signing period
Mullen and his Egg Bowl rival are pro early signing periodRogelio V. Solis

Coaches, in bulk, agree with the ideal as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution highlighted in the interviewing of several prominent program leaders. Although the men disagree on the implementation, it certainly makes sense that so many college head coaches agree on a move that helps make their job easier. Convince a kid to sign and then the coach is done with him until enrollment, focusing on convincing other targets, not wasting time on athletes already beholden to the school.

In theory, it is good for athletes and programs. In practice, the positives are guaranteed for the school, less work if they get proficient at convincing kids to sign on the bottom line. Meanwhile, kids are locked in despite coaching changes, of both head and position variety, better opportunity elsewhere from a system or NFL early-entrant standpoint, or simply a changed mind.

There is more harm to be done, from a student-athlete standpoint, than the positives of the limited kids schools work to push into an early signature. As has been discussed previously when the rules of engagement were headed toward open recruiting, managing the process is the best way for players to protect their interests. 

The Maryland coach's idea, as expressed to Adam Rittenberg of ESPN, not only retains the current signing structure, but it pushes offers back to make sure the offers hold more validity:

Edsall's plan calls for preventing any type of scholarship offer -- written or verbal -- until Sept. 1 of a prospect's senior year in high school. Any offers would come from admissions or financial aid offices, not football coaches.

That would mean shutting down the verbal offers to eighth-, ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders that have become commonplace across the collegiate landscape. It would also mean the one-day camp offers that have populated the atmosphere would have to wait. Rather, coaches would get to evaluate kids, sit on their decisions and then extend offers to start September of the prospect's final season.

Of course, all pending an approval from admissions, instead of working backwards where offers are often extended with the hopes of a player meeting the requirements, eventually.

High school athletes who enter their senior season already qualified academically would draw their offers immediately from the schools with interest in their athletic skills. Players clearly on track to qualify would also likely see their offers come quickly because the path is laid out to admissions, who approves the decision.

Players at risk would have the opportunity to look at other schools where they could qualify immediately or head to community college, prep school or junior college, as is the current process. Well, the current process, without the non-committable offer, or worse—the pulled offer in the 11th hour of the recruiting process.

No. 44, Junior Gnonkonde, had his GT offer pulled late due to academics
No. 44, Junior Gnonkonde, had his GT offer pulled late due to academicsGerry Broome

The financial aid and admissions office having control over the offers would not eliminate the use of a sliding scale. Rather, it would ensure that all parties were on the same page with respect to where prospective student-athletes stand and their likelihood of qualifying for the coming school year. Tougher on coaches and athletes up front, but less heartache for both parties on the back end, thanks to some transparency.

This initiative would force coaches to only hand out real offers, after doing some serious evaluation, instead of the current pressure to be first with offers for early athletes. Where football is concerned, more time to evaluate is a plus.

And, because all offers—written and verbal—would have to come on, or after, September 1, every school would get to watch as much pre-senior-year footage as possible. Including the ever increasing 7-on-7 circuit tape and the always-critical one-day camp video shot on campus, in addition to previous seasons' game footage.

Edsall's change is a move worth considering, especially on a landscape where each team, yearly, casts a wider net to corral the 25 high school athletes it wants to get into its fold. Slowing down the offer process to improve the evaluation process is a trade-off in the best interest of both sides of the collegiate equation.