Proposed college football early signing period could have disastrous results


The early signing period for college football recruits to lock themselves in is an idea that has gained momentum in the last few years, but could it backfire given recent developments?

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The concept of an early signing period is actually a good one, but all of the ugly possibilities that come with it have to be explored and have contingencies planned for, otherwise the results could be disastrous for all involved.

According to CBS Sports, a committee who has studied the issue of an early signing period has recommended a three-day period starting on Dec. 16, which would coincide with the time that mid-year junior college transfers can sign. They are looking at this as an experimental idea before implementing it full force.

But in light of what has happened over the past few years in the days surrounding National Signing Day, the entire idea of an early signing period might need to be reevaluated.

While some say a player should look at committing to an overall program rather than a coach, the fact is that the current recruiting dynamic overrides that approach.

Recruiting has become more and more personal, with coaches reaching out to players as early as their freshman or sophomore years (even before that for some schools), and maintaining contact as the player grows through high school.

This type of one-on-one interaction has, in turn, caused players to become personally involved or attached to the coach who has been their primary recruiter. That type of relationship has had some less than savory endings when the recruiting trail comes to an end.

There were three examples this year alone of coaches who had developed a rapport with students, only to leave their post at the university shortly after National Signing Day. For two of those students — Ohio State recruit Mike Weber and Texas recruit Du’Vonta Lampkin — it was too late. One of them, recently announced Georgia signee Roquan Smith, managed to turn the system to his advantage.

If this new early signing period is to be instituted, some protection has to be put in place for the athletes, allowing them to opt out of their Letter of Intent should a coaching change that directly affects them occur. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a lot of unhappy players and messy battles regarding releases from those signed letters.

There are no guarantees in life, and particularly where college football coaches are concerned. Coordinators change constantly, and many head coaches show more loyalty to money than to an institution. But these kids are making a life-changing choice, and if working with a particular coach is a major part of that choice, then they should have options.

The committee is set to vote on using the experimental early signing period in June, and ACC Commissioner John Swofford said an out clause “should be a necessary part for the proposal to pass. My guess is that would be a part of it. I think that would be entirely appropriate.”

To penalize a student-athlete by making him sit out a year because of an unexpected coaching change at a school where he’s signed a Letter of Intent entirely defeats the purpose of what the recruiting business is supposed to be. The idea is to recruit players who are best for a school’s program and the systems and/or schemes that they run, and for those players to be able to flourish and grow within that system.

Imagine if you were a pro-style quarterback who had signed a NLI to a particular school during the early signing period, only to find out in February that Paul Johnson and his triple-option offense are coming in to replace the former head coach. Under current rules, you’d be required to request a release from your LOI, and then a waiver from the NCAA. Otherwise you’d be required to sit out a year if you transfer.

Is it fair to ask a player to muddle through the myriad of NCAA red tape to deal with a situation that was not of their own doing?

“I think it’s all going to be subject to further conversation,” Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said. “I think we’re also living in a new world where student-athletes need to be treated differently than how we treated them in the past, and this would definitely be one of those areas.”

Certainly this idea will need some deep discussion and for any trial period, student-athletes will have to be treated with kid gloves.

Oct 29, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; ACC commissioner John Swofford talks with members of the media during ACC basketball media day at The Westin. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The other issue at hand is whether or not this new early signing period would evolve into a de facto signing day, and essentially leave less options for players and schools. SEC executive associate commissioner Greg Sankey isn’t sure about the idea, and he made sure the committee knew it.

“I’m not sure where the ability of an early signing period outweighs what I view as mounting pressure to sign as many people as possible in the early signing date,” Sankey said. “How does that ripple effect impact recruiting activity in early December and the fall and summer around camps and then in the spring when it’s only an evaluation period?”

It’s not a clear-cut issue no matter how you look at it, but one thing is for certain – the commissioners, coaches and committees dealing with this proposal have to put the best interest of the student first, or ideas such as unionization of college athletes will only gain more traction.

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