Should the Early Signing Period be nixed in this weird year? Recruiting experts weigh in
Five weeks after 2020 National Signing Day ended, the recruiting calendar was flipped on its head. Instead of a dead period that was supposed to last a month over the summer, the recruiting dead period that began on March 13 in response to COVID-19 is now set to continue through July 31. That’s 3.5 months longer than anticipated.
And as we know, that temporary July 31 date — which will only happen without any more setbacks — will coincide with coaches being in the middle of their fall camps. There are no recruiting camps or on-campus visits for recruits this summer, and given the uncertainty about in-stadium attendance this fall, who knows what in-person meetings will be possible during the season.
“I don’t think (the NCAA) can solidly say, ‘Once July 31 hits, the dead period is over,’” said Corey Long, a former SDS contributor who covers recruiting for WalterFootball.com. “I understand why they moved it back. They really do have to put all of their focus on student-athletes returning and making sure they’re in a safe environment. You start bringing a dozen, 2 dozen prospects and their parents to practice every day, you can’t trust anybody.
“All the sudden, you start playing with fire.”
It begs the question — should the Early Signing Period be nixed in this unprecedented year?
To answer that, I reached out to a few experts who had varying opinions.
Rivals national recruiting director Mike Farrell, AKA “the Godfather of recruiting,” admitted that a canceled Early Signing Period could happen, though it’s still unlikely. It’s not so much the logistics of it, he said, but rather the simple fact that kids will still want to sign in December and enroll early.
Long added that there’s a precedent that could be an issue.
“It’s a little easier said than done,” he said. “It’s very difficult to roll something back than to roll it out again. If you roll it back, (the Early Signing Period) looks like an experiment … could they move it back this year? Sure. Would it be the best thing? It might be. But remember, once you take things away, it’s really hard to put them back.”
It’s a fair point, though obviously there’s been pivoting across the sports world. Plus, there were still early enrollees before the introduction of the Early Signing Period in 2017. The whole point of the Early Signing Period, which has been successful so far, was to avoid schools swooping in late and flipping a kid in January who had no intentions of looking elsewhere.
Now, though, there’s a bigger fear with the current restrictions — decommitments galore.
“There’s no question that schools are putting more pressure on student athletes,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said, according to Inside NU. “You are going to see a large number of de-commitments when this ends, no doubt.”
ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill also expressed concern over the decommitments from players who committed the past couple of months, and that was before the NCAA continued the dead period through July.
Long agreed that the wave of decommitments is coming, which could potentially impact classes from top to bottom. According to Long, the number of commitments is around 780. Usually this time of year, it’s fewer than 400. Some programs, like Tennessee, picked up commitments left and right during this COVID-19 dead period. Of the 24 commitments in Jeremy Pruitt’s 2021 class, 17 pledged since March 31.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if half the kids in the class not necessarily decommit, but they back away (from their commitments). They might come back,” Long said. “There’s a lot of instability.”
And that instability is rooted in the belief that more recruits are jumping on their big-time offers earlier than ever. There’s uncertainty about the high school football season, as well. Long believes we could see 2021 recruits reclassifying for the 2020 class.
On the flip side, there are programs like Georgia. Kirby Smart, who is usually racking up commitments from blue-chip recruits around this time, has just 8 commitments. Only 2 are from outside Georgia. In the 2020 cycle, Smart’s No. 1 class consisted of 17 out-of-state recruits. To say that Smart and others who recruit nationally like Alabama are taking a massive hit from the travel restrictions would be an understatement.
Compare the current dead period to what the NCAA’s summer recruiting calendar was supposed to look like from March-July:
- March 1-April 14: Quiet Period (only in-person recruiting is on campus)
- April 15-May 30: Evaluation Period (off-campus activities with recruits such as camps, showcases allowed)
- June 1-June 21: Quiet Period
- June 22-July 24: Dead Period
- July 25-July 31: Quiet Period
Again, we’re now in the midst of a 4.5-month dead period from March 13-July 31 because of COVID-19. That was only supposed to be from June 22-July 24.
What does all of this mean? A messy, fluid situation lies ahead.
Giving coaches some extra time to sort all this out could make sense in this strange year, even if it means they won’t get that 2-month head start on the 2022 class. The good news is that, as Long mentioned, coaches should have ample time to watch more game film than ever on recruits. The challenge is obviously all of that will be pre-senior season film.
But this still comes back to not rushing recruits amidst some atypical circumstances. That’s why Luginbill said that he believes a 1-year cancelation of the Early Signing Period would make sense.
“I think it should happen. It would be best for both parties involved,” Luginbill told SDS. “Kids would make better choices with more time and right now coaches are doing more background on prospects to help avoid mistakes.”
The original premise of the Early Signing Period was attached with the caveat that summer official visits would be allowed. That made total sense. To keep that same early deadline in place amidst these circumstances would put unwarranted pressure on recruits who, by no fault of their own, didn’t get a normal cycle.
Even as travel bans loosen, there could be families who aren’t comfortable traveling well into the fall. Surely getting an extra 6 weeks to make those official visits would help. And even though coaches would love to have their entire classes signed by December in a given year, what would be the opposition to a 1-year exception? That 2-month head start on the next class? That seems like a small sacrifice to make in a year when nothing is normal.
It’s up to the NCAA to recognize the right move. What a daunting thought that is.