Talking with college coaches, the concept of an early signing period often comes up. And it seems that many really like the idea.
Indeed, allowing players to sign before their senior seasons would stop the deluge of calls, emails and texts they receive on a daily basis during the recruiting process. It would allow them to focus on academics and actually qualifying for the school with which they've signed early.
It also would pretty much eliminate the concept of the "soft commitment." I spoke about this with Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson this summer at the ACC Football Kickoff event in Greensboro. He favors the early signing period and is not a fan of the current recruiting game:
I think the whole thing is out of hand anyway," Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson said. "My preference on that is that we go back to the old days that whenever you offer somebody a scholarship they [could] sign [immediately]. And you'd have a date at the end you can't go past, and you'd stop all this soft commitment [stuff]. If you put it in front of them and they sign it then they're coming. And if they didn't sign it, they're not committed."
Indeed, the early signing period would provide more certainty for all involved. It seems like a good idea, in theory.
But Stanford head coach David Shaw is not in favor. At all.
Stanford coach David Shaw says an early signing day for football would be "catastrophic" for the sport. Wants to see date pushed back.— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) November 13, 2012
Shaw noted that some kids commit/recommit several times, thinks recruits should be able to take more visits, get to know programs better.— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) November 13, 2012
Shaw does bring up some good points.
Allowing players to sign before their senior seasons means that evaluations need to be sped up. That increases the chance of a poor evaluation, because coaches have less film from which to make the eval. Some recruits just don't continue to develop as seniors. If a school signs a kid early based on his junior season. and his senior year doesn't show improvement, it would be stuck with the player.
Under the current system, a school that realizes it missed on an evaluation of a commitment (not a signee) could communicate to the player that he is unlikely to ever receive playing time at the school and should look elsewhere. While harsh, that situation actually benefits both school and player.
Another potential issue with the early signing period is how it would account, if at all, for coaching changes. Players are told to commit to the school and not the coaching staff. And that is great advice. But it is not how things happen. Players commit to coaching staffs. They trust a certain coach, value that relationship, and want to play in the specific scheme run by the coach.
What happens if a coach leaves? Under the current system, a player simply decommits if he chooses and heads to another school. But under an early signing period, that wouldn't be possible if the player signed the binding letter in the early window. Would the school be required to let the player out of the letter? If so, under what conditions? Only if the head coach bolts? What about a coordinator or position coach?
An early signing period, even if specifics are worked out, won't solve all of college football recruiting's woes.
But calling it "catastrophic?" That's interesting. Shaw might have an ulterior motive for his comments.
And indeed, an astute twitter user quickly pointed out a problem that could exist for Stanford, but few other schools.
@bryandfischer Shaw's comments are self serving. Would be catastrophic for his program because the way Stanford handles admissions.— SycamorePride.com (@sycamorepride) November 13, 2012
Because of Stanford's academic standards, which are much tougher than NCAA minimum requirements, it runs into many more difficulties getting recruits admitted than the average football factory. Stanford does its best to judge who will likely be admitted, but often times the process is long and drawn out through a commitment's senior year, as he continues to take certain classes that Stanford admissions wants to see.
For Stanford, an early signing period could indeed be catastrophic. It would face a situation in which talented, smart players want to sign early and take advantage of strong academics and be a part of the burgeoning football program, but could not allow them to sign because they are still far from clearing admissions. Those players, not willing to wait around, would lock up spots at other schools and Stanford's recruiting would take a hit.
While the early signing period seems to be a favorite of most coaches, clearly it is not ideal for all institutions.
While we’re here, let’s watch some of the many fine college football videos from SB Nation’s YouTube channel: