Why the early signing period is a bad idea that should be ditched
The long-rumored early signing period for college football has been tabled for a year. The proposal, which was for a three-day early signing period in mid-December, will be re-visited next year, but the idea should be ditched altogether for a bunch of reasons.
Let’s start with the timing: An early signing period taking place in mid-December? That is right in the middle of the "silly season" when coaches get canned or bolt for new jobs, creating ripples of change and uncertainty. Heck, what happens when there’s a shuffle of coordinators (which often happens even later in the process) and a player may end up stuck in a system or style he never wanted or doesn’t feel best suits him?
Do all of those recruits, who signed on to play for coaches who are no longer at those schools, get a waiver? You can make the case football recruits should be more concerned with where they’re going, not who they’re playing for, but that’s not reality.
There will also be more pressure from college coaches to get recruits to commit — and sign — early to lock them up. So they’ll push for official visits that might’ve taken place in the winter to now happen in the fall, getting bunched up during the high school season, which causes an issue for kids, because how many are going to avoid the possibility of getting squeezed out of the process?
Now I get why some college coaches pushed for the early signing period. The recruiting world already is a farce when it comes to prospects talking about being "46 percent committed" or guys who de-commit and re-commit to four different schools in a matter of weeks and then sit in front of a table with five hats. Or for the coaches who dangle pseudo offers of sorts to get in the boat early, except they’re offers kids can’t truly commit on yet as schools wait to see how some other factors unfold.
Proponents of the new rule say this would take pressure off kids and save colleges a lot of money and time. It probably would do the latter — and that’s why they pushed for this. As for the former, I’m not so sure.
Right after I wrote Meat Market, my 2007 book about spending an entire year inside an SEC program to examine the inner workings of college football recruiting, I’d noticed the recruiting process had actually ramped up two or three months ahead on the calendar in terms of offers in the following year. Part of that was spurred by the Internet and online recruiting sites and how quickly reports of offers spread. "Gotta get in the boat early," I remember then-Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron saying, so they could play the loyalty card. They were on the front end of the curve, and as an upstart trying to compete with heavyweights, you almost have to be.
Ultimately, I suspect all this would do is speed up the process even earlier, because all these coaches can’t help themselves. They’re always striving to get the jump on their competition. There will be pressure from college coaches pushing kids and saying, "If you don’t sign now, we may not have room for you in February."
Speed the process up even faster, and as Duke coach David Cutcliffe predicted a few years back, it’ll be "a zoo for high schools to start doing contacts in the spring — then you’ll have 100 coaches pulling your kids out of class." That dovetails with another issue that Cutcliffe noted when he told me why he was against an early signing period: For many recruits who are not elite students (which is a big chunk of FBS football players), their academic profiles are still pretty murky going into their senior years of high school and the ramped up schedule causes more guesswork.
"The biggest problem with it is you’re looking at kids who, at the most, have only had six semesters of their academic work done," Cutcliffe said. "A lot of things can happen. A lot of kids don’t have a valid test score in, so you’re opening up a can of worms."
It’d also cause more guesswork regarding players’ character, too. With more scrutiny than ever being focused on character issues, just how well will college coaches actually know many of these recruits they end up signing if they’re already prevented by NCAA rules from having much contact with them?
It might make some sense for schools and coaches to lock recruits in earlier, but the net outcome for players and college football as a whole is not positive. We shouldn’t spend even more time next year continuing to discuss a flawed proposal.
Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and FOX Sports 1. He is also a New York Times Bestselling author. His new book, The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks, came out in October, 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB.