One of my colleagues in this crazy recruiting/reporting business is Jeremy Crabtree of ESPN, and he wrote a piece yesterday talking about how a committee chaired by the Mid-American Conference commissioner would be exploring further the idea of an early national signing period for football. This isn’t new news really, it has been debated for years. Basketball does it. It has an early signing period… though basketball is a completely different animal when it comes to recruiting. And I mean that in a nice way (sort of).
The thing that continues to hit me on this topic is how great it looks on paper and how lousy it would probably work when it is implemented–especially for SEC schools. As usual, the NCAA and conferences and coaches all talk about how things will benefit the student athlete. In reality, an early signing period might help a few kids get the pressure off their backs, but many others could get burned by it. And if you really look inside of the way recruiting currently works, the current system actually does benefit the kid–and at the same time, it pretty much benefits the schools, too.
The current process allows a prospect to take five official visits beginning in September of his senior year. If he wants/needs to check out all of his options, he has a lot of opportunities to do this. Also, as we all know, a prospect can take as many unofficial visits to a campus as he wants … and if a program wants the kid, they’ll be right there at the front gate to cheerfully greet him and show him and his family around. Campus contact is unlimited. This whole setup benefits the undecided prospect, greatly. Do kids sometimes switch “commitments” because a late visit went well? Absolutely. But doesn’t that benefit the kid more? The chance to change his mind before signing a binding contract?
If he needs the extra time, he has that as an option. If he wants to shut it down and commit to his lifelong favorite school? Great, do it. And turn off the phone and don’t respond to social media requests from other staffs–that will end any “harassment” if it truly bugs the prospect. It’s just like with telemarketers–they’re only annoying when you let them be. It may be a program’s NCAA-given right to try to recruit you until the 11th hour before national signing day in February, but you as a prospect also have the right not to respond. It’s not that hard to do. That’s how a “committed” prospect could keep other schools at bay.
An earlier signing period squeezes the whole process down and will undoubtedly push recruiting more and more into the freshman and sophomore years of high school, which it already does do to a lesser extent. Already, we’re seeing the elite programs around the country (and we all know several of those elite programs reside in the SEC) posting 2015 classes of nearly 20 commitments. When you realize the average size of a class is around 25, it’s amazing to think that 80 percent of some classes are complete at some schools. In fact, 13 of the 14 SEC schools already have nine commitments aboard, and we’re still eight months away from national signing day.
I guess what I’m saying here is … in the SEC’s case, a good chunk of their classes are already on board and we’re still two-thirds of a year away from signing day. Yes, one or two kids might switch last second because they haven’t signed, but most of these same schools benefit from that situation too. From year to year, everybody loses a kid or gains a kid in the waning hours of recruiting.
Oh, and let’s step back to basketball for a second. The “early” national signing period for hoops in November? Well, why don’t we just call it what it is now … it’s “the” signing period. Because unless you’re John Wall, most colleges aren’t going to wait for you until the spring signing period. Basically, programs want to know what they’re going to get–so the pressure is on the kids to sign with a school in November in that “early” national period. With basketball, this isn’t a horrible thing–since much of the recruiting and evaluating of a kid is based much more on summer AAU ball than his high school senior season. But let’s not fool ourselves … November in hoops is not the “early” signing period anymore. Prospects know if they play around and wait until spring period, there probably won’t be a scholarship open for them by the time spring rolls around. It has forced a hoops prospect to show his hand earlier, not given him another nice “option”.
And why would football be any different? Programs could use the early period as leverage for a solid three-star prospect or a lower four-star type. A football staff can look at a kid who has 3 or 4 offers and say “we have another guy who is willing to sign early, and we really want to sew this up now, so are you on board to sign with us?”. See what we mean? Football will end up being like hoops. If college football goes with an early national signing period of Aug. 1, which the ACC contingent and several others are proposing, that will become the new signing day. Trust me on this. The SEC’s coaches seem a bit more reluctant about this whole idea, but also seem to be realistic–they seem to think the early period’s day is near, so they’re more cool with a Dec. 1 early signing period. That’s the SEC’s prosposal.
Hey, Dec. 1 would be a huge Christmas present … for the schools. They would likely then have an extended dead period during the holidays, meaning they don’t have to pull their hair out over recruiting during bowl preparations. I’ll admit, that’s nice for the colleges, but again … how does this benefit the prospect? And if it did end up being Aug. 1, what about those fringe prospects who actually have amazing senior seasons? The ones who hit the weight room really hard or grew four inches over the summer and put on 30 good pounds of muscle. The guys who these days get 4 or 5 FBS offers based on their senior seasons? Well, senior years won’t matter anymore, at least with the elite programs. The elites will want their classes done as early as possible and won’t have any problem signing 25 guys on Aug. 1 and calling it a day. Why else would they have 20 commitments by June 2014 for a Feb. 2015 signing period?
Again, how does this help the prospect?
I guess it all boils down to this: Is the current recruiting process flawed? Of course it is. There is exploitation, there is borderline harassment, it’s not perfect, you name it.
But I’ll go ahead and say that it’s better than the alternative … which is just to take the same not-so-perfect system and move it up six months or more and push football recruiting earlier in a player’s prep career.