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Post Shocker: Coaches want to lock in commitments sooner

Thursday May 29, 2008

I’ve written before about an early signing period for college football. It’s not that it’s an awful idea or would ruin college football, but something about the motivation has always seemed a little questionable to me. I’m not surprised that the SEC coaches have voted to push the idea forward, but the coverage of this news I’ve read so far doesn’t do much to diminish my primary concern with the early signing period: we tend to hear a lot more about why this is great for the coaches and college programs than we do about benefits for the student-athlete.

That said, I don’t have much of a problem with the idea as endorsed by the SEC coaches. But at the same time, it really doesn’t address many of the reasons why people claim we need an early signing period. The key detail in the SEC proposal is that prospects would only be eligible to sign early if they don’t take official visits.

Think about what that condition implies. Aside from the "been a fan all my life" prospects who jump on their dream offer, why would a prospect want to forgo the official visit even if they only visit their chosen school?

To the kind of prospect whose commitment is that solid, it doesn’t matter when signing day is. The kid isn’t going anywhere and really isn’t receptive to other recruiting overtures because his intent is obvious. So the program has no need to "babysit" such a prospect during the final months of the recruiting process, and there isn’t much pressure or attention put on someone who makes his plans crystal clear in March or whenever he gets his dream offer.

The prospects for whom recruiting pressure, endless phone calls, and media attention are unpleasant realities are the undecided. These are exactly the prospects who should be taking their visits, thinking things over, and shouldn’t be rushed into "getting it over with." Once they do start taking visits, the SEC plan wouldn’t allow the high-profile undecided prospect to sign early anyway.

Who is speaking up for the student-athlete in this discussion? We’re getting no end of woe-is-us stories from the coaches, but forgive me if I don’t melt because some guy whose salary is pushing seven figures has to make a few extra phone calls. This is the one time in the process where the student-athlete holds a bit of the upper hand and when changing his mind won’t come with a substantial penalty. You can’t say that for the job-hopping coaches.

Tony Barnhart writes, "The rationale for the rule is that more and more players are committing early and would like to sign and avoid the final six weeks of recruiting." They would? How do we know? Barnhart had plenty of quotes supporting the coaches’ positions, but who is carrying the torch for the prospects claiming that they "would like to sign and avoid the final six weeks of recruiting?"

ESPN’s Chris Low makes a bit of a reach when he discusses the coaches’ motivations for the vote. (Emphasis added.)

One of the reasons most of the SEC coaches favor an early signing period is because so many prospects commit early and then hold everybody hostage as they look around in January and February.

That’s overstating it just a little, isn’t it? I admit to being familiar only with Georgia’s recruiting, but the Dwayne Allens and A.J. Harmons of the world seem much more like the exception than the rule for a given class. And the "hold everybody hostage" line is just over the top. While there are always those who love to play the game and string everyone along (again – they’d still be signing in February anyway under the SEC proposal), I just don’t recall a lot of the early commitments shopping around into January.

Bobby Petrino makes a quality point: "We got here in December and were able to change some minds of some young men in our state. Had there been an early signing period those kids might have been already signed." That’s an issue for the prospect as well. The college regular season is still ongoing in late November. Few, if any, personnel moves would have been made by this point. Prospects would still run the risk of signing with a school about to change the head coach or any number of assistants.

We’ve heard enough on the subject from the coaches. The next reasonable step seems to be getting a good sample of prospects candidly on the record. Would an early signing period really be something that they want? Would they be willing to give up the plum official visits if it meant that they could end the recruiting process two months early? Would they feel pressure to sign early if it meant that their scholarship offer depended on it?

One Response to 'Shocker: Coaches want to lock in commitments sooner'

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  • Well of course Bobby Petrino would say that! He needs to ensure that there will still be uncommited kids next December when he leaves Ark for his umpteeth CFB job!