May 31, 2008

Roundtable: Early signing period?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each of our national writers for their opinion about a specific topic from the past week.

TODAY'S QUESTION: The SEC came out this week and proposed an early signing period for football. Should there be one? And if so, when should it be?
Olin Buchanan

An early signing period makes sense for several reasons. More and more prospects are making commitments to programs by the summer before their senior seasons, and the vast majority of those players will honor those commitments. Why not allow those who have made their decisions the opportunity to finish the process? That would eliminate having to deal with coaches who won't give up and continue to try to change the player's mind.

An early signing period also would benefit programs that get burned by prospects who change their mind at the last minute. There always seem to be a few stories of players who commit under the condition that no other player is recruited at their position particularly quarterback. Then as February approaches, they change their mind, leaving the program scrambling to find a replacement.

But I'm even more concerned about marginal players. Last year, there was a story about a player who committed early. But the school changed coaches and the new regime pulled the scholarship offer. Other programs had stopped recruiting him because he was a marginal player who already had made a commitment. That left him with few options.

Think about that. What if that was your kid and for months you thought his college education was taken care of. Then, a couple of weeks before signing day, you learn that's no longer the case.

The scholarship would have been secured with an early signing period, which some might say is unfair to the new coach. But in that scenario, I'd rather protect the player first.

Tom Dienhart

Without a doubt, college football needs an early signing period. It makes too much sense on many fronts.

An early date should coincide with when junior college players sign letters-of-intent in mid-December. The early period would allow schools to have a portion of their recruiting class "in the bag," with no fear of losing any recruits at the 11th hour. Schools then could focus all of their energies on filling out the rest of their recruiting classes.

And an early signing period also would help even the recruiting playing field between the haves and have-nots. Here's how the recruiting food chain works: A monster school like, say, Texas loses out on a mega quarterback prospect in late January. What's it do? The Longhorns turn around and steal a quarterback commitment from, say, Texas Tech who was the Longhorns' Plan B option.

A final salvo for an early signing period: It would allow recruits officially to end the recruiting insanity that escalates in January.

Mike Huguenin

An early signing period for football is long overdue. This is a case where football needs to follow basketball's lead. Basketball has an early signing period, and a vast majority of the top players get it out of the way early.

I don't think the same high percentage of football players will sign early, but I think there will be a sizable number who don't want to go through the recruiting circus and will sign.

As for when it should be, I say late July. I have seen some "proposals" that it be in December, but that's too close to National Signing Day and doesn't really solve that much. Have it before the season, so the players who don't want to be bothered by the process truly can get it out of the way. The recruiting calendar dead periods and the like would have to be changed if it's in July, but if you're adding an early signing date, that means the calendar is undergoing a severe overhaul already.

Are there negatives to an early signing date? As with everything, the answer is yes. The biggest, of course, is what happens to a player who signs early, then watches as the school fires the coach. But you shouldn't let the few negatives outweigh the positives.

Steve Megargee

In an era when more and more recruits are committing early and a growing number also are changing their minds afterward an early signing period makes sense.

The SEC has recommended an early signing period in late November, but I'm more in favor of the proposal made by the ACC last year to have that early signing period in mid-December because it wouldn't interfere as much with the actual season that way. In fact, the teams that don't appear in bowls already would be finished with their seasons by then.

But if we really want to have an early signing period that doesn't come when the coaches already are busy setting up game plans, why not have it a whole lot earlier than November or December? Why not have it in August? A quick look at the Rivals 100 shows that 45 of those prospects already have made commitments, so an August signing date isn't nearly as early as you might think on first glance. And it would allow those prospects to get the recruiting process finished once and for all so they don't have to worry about fielding calls from coaches during their senior year of high school.

An August signing date would have its problems. What if a recruit makes a decision in the summer and has second thoughts when the team he signed with struggles through a difficult season? The events over the course of a season also could shake up the depth chart in such a way that a recruit might discover he has a better chance of finding early playing time elsewhere.

But it seems to me that arranging an early signing date in August or mid-December when many teams aren't playing football would work better than having it in late November.

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