Why College Football Needs to Implement Early Signing Period

Greg WallaceFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2014

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For college football fans, the first Wednesday in February is akin to a high holiday.

Recruits across the nation put pen to paper, signing national letters of intent with their college of choice, and for one day, fax machines in football offices all over the United States are relevant again.

National signing day is a special day, one football coaches consider like Christmas morning; it's a day when they can finally unwrap their gifts.

Here’s a dirty little secret, though. It isn’t as relevant as it should be.

A growing number of players who ink on national signing day are already on campus as early enrollees, a trend that gains momentum with each passing year.

A number of college football coaches want the game to adjust to the times, favoring an early signing period in either August or December. The ACC will bring a proposal for an August 1 signing day to the Conference Commissioners Association meeting in June.

It’s the right move. College football would be well served with an early signing period that would allow recruits to begin their college careers and also shift focus to those who are truly undecided in early February.

It is Memorial Day, and of the top 50 recruits in 247Sports’ Top 247 of the 2015 class, 18 have already announced their commitments, with more sure to come in June’s rush of camps and unofficial visits.

Why not allow them to make their choices on their own timetables?

With the growing number of recruits who are choosing early, some programs spend January focusing more on players in the following year’s cycle more than those who are choosing their destinations in February.

Clemson, for example, hosted only three uncommitted prospects in January 2014.

Central Florida coach George O’Leary favors a December signing period that would allow junior college players to sign and enroll early.  He told CBSSports.com that hosting players who have already committed on official visits is wasteful.

What are we doing? We're spending thousands of dollars to fly and rent a car for a kid that's already verballed. The recruiting calendar changed and we never adjusted. It's like making a reservation at a hotel.

Clemson and Dabo Swinney collect numerous early enrollees each year.
Clemson and Dabo Swinney collect numerous early enrollees each year.Steve Helber/Associated Press

For coaches with early commitments, the final part of the recruiting period isn’t so much about wooing. It’s about maintaining relationships and assuring that the player will indeed put pen to paper when the time matters.

There are several interesting options for an early signing period. One would be August, which would allow a player to commit and sign before playing his senior season of high school football, giving him security over his options.

If the school’s coaching staff was fired or moves on following the season, he could be given an option to reopen his recruitment and sign again in February, although that isn’t ideal.

Schools with higher academic standards, like Stanford, are also not in favor of the plan since it would require early signees to be assured that they would be able to enter the program of their choice.

CBSSports.com reports that Stanford coach David Shaw called the plan "terrible." 

Having a December signing period would alleviate some of those concerns, but it would also allow schools to build their classes early and shift a lesser focus to February.

The NCAA is already taking steps toward an early signing period. Last fall, it began allowing players who were expected to be early enrollees to sign financial-aid agreements with their college of choice (or, in some cases, multiple colleges of choice) before they signed their national letter of intent.

Stanford coach David Shaw is strongly against an early signing period.
Stanford coach David Shaw is strongly against an early signing period.Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

Unlike a letter of intent, the financial-aid agreement does not bind a player to a school, but it does bind a school to a player by agreeing to provide all the aid that comes with a scholarship.

Currently, players are not allowed to make an official visit to a program until Sept. 1, but with an early signing period, that could change. It would be a change for players and coaches and likely increase the amount of official visits during the season itself, but programs already host numerous players for unofficial visits during the season alongside the official visitors. It shouldn’t be too hard to accommodate a few more official visits in August as well as during the season.

The plan also has support among college football coaches: CBSSports.com conducted an informal survey, and among 25 respondents, 19 favored some form of an early signing period.

The model of a dual signing period has worked well for college basketball, which features a period in November as well as one that begins in mid-April.

Coaches want an early signing period. Players would take advantage of it. Adding it to college football’s calendar would be the smartest move possible for everyone involved.


Connect with Greg on Twitter: @gc_wallace.