The possibility of an early signing date for college football has gained momentum. Just last week at SEC spring meetings, coaches voiced their support for an early signing day on the Monday following Thanksgiving.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini has an entirely different viewpoint.
Forget national signing day. Forget an early signing period. Pelini wants a kid to be able to sign with a school the moment he receives a scholarship offer.
"If somebody has offered a kid, let him sign, it's over," Pelini told ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg. "That will stop some of the things that are happening—people just throwing out offers, some of them with really no intention of taking a kid."
Pelini brings up a sound point. Offering a scholarship and verbally committing in today's recruiting process holds as much weight as asking someone to hold your place in line. Intentions may be good, but words ultimately mean nothing until the letter of intent is signed.
When a coach offers a scholarship to, say, a 15-year-old, and that kid verbally commits, it's hard not to scoff. Who knows if that coach will even be at the same school in three years. Furthermore, if a prospect gets a scholarship offer at 15, chances are it won't be his last.
And no teenager has ever changed his mind, right?
So, back to Pelini. By allowing a kid to sign the moment he receives a scholarship offer, coaches would be held accountable for their decisions—even if those decisions affect things years in advance. It sounds great in theory.
Being tied down so early in the process requires the NLI to be loosened, though. Otherwise, as Stanford coach David Shaw previously explained (via Kyle Bonagura of ESPN.com), the appeals process is going to be backloaded with cases.
"What's going to happen is, if a kid wants to change his mind late after the early signing period, he's going to appeal and that appeal is going to go through because the committees that decide those appeals," Shaw said, "they always give in towards the student-athlete."
Pelini suggests that prospects should be allowed to be released from their letter if there's a coaching change. But, to take it a step further, why stop there?
Kids commit to schools for a variety of reasons, from coaches to the state of the program and, yes, even academics from time to time.
If anything changes on those fronts, should a recruit not be allowed to do what he feels is best for him?
Which brings up the question: Why tie anyone down with a meaningful commitment years before the deadline? What if, for example, academics become a problem? Shaw thought of that, too.
"On top of that—and I'll be honest here, which is rare for a football coach in a setting like this—but we have a lot of kids that don't know if they're going to get into school until after that early signing day," Shaw said. "So we're going to punish the academic schools just because coaches don't want a kid to switch their commitment?"
To be clear, Shaw is explaining why he thought an early signing period was a bad idea. Pelini wants to eliminate that period, but by allowing recruits to sign whenever, he's really making it 24/7/365.
Bleacher Report colleague Adam Kramer previously made a case in favor of an early signing period. It's well thought out and worth a read. His point, in a nutshell, is that if a recruit knows what he wants, he should be allowed to make his decision and end the process on his terms.
It's tough to argue against that. And, to Pelini's credit, his idea may actually slow down the process. Coaches may be more deliberate with their offers and recruits may be more careful before they sign.
But how many more think they know what they want, only to find out later they don't know or that it's changed? Haven't all of us been there at some point?
We're talking about a relatively small percentage of kids, of course, but the practice of early recruiting has become common enough that its consequences warrant further consideration.
That logic could be applied to coaches, too. The idea of accountability with scholarship offers is noble, but keeping the process open as long as possible provides a level of protection for them as well.
What if a recruit has character issues that would otherwise prevent a coach from offering? What if the prospect has peaked physically at a young age? It's unlikely a coach has seen extensive tape of every 16-year-old recruit, let alone seen them enough in person to properly evaluate on a physical and personal level.
So while offers and verbal commitments don't mean much, they also give both sides an easy out. Sometimes, that's used insidiously. But, other times, it gives recruits options.
Unless a player makes it all the way to their second contract in the NFL, options like these won't come along for another 10 years or so.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.
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