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College football could add an early signing period. Who wins and loses?

The idea raises obvious concerns for many players, while possibly benefitting a large number of schools.

Signing Day spectacles are likely to start happening in December, too.
Signing Day spectacles are likely to start happening in December, too.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

College football's National Signing Day is a February tradition. That's the day recruits sign pledges to universities and commitments finally become official.

The Collegiate Commissioners Association is voting this week on a proposal that would create another three-day signing window, giving high school athletes the opportunity to sign prior to February. It's expected to happen at some point -- an early period could go into effect this year, from Dec. 16 to 18 [Update: the decision's been "tabled," so no early period for 2015] -- and there wouldn't be a limit on the number of recruits a school could sign during the early period.

Football has been one of the few college sports without an early signing period, joined only by soccer and water polo. Basketball's early signing period has been considered a major success, because colleges do not have to continually recruit committed prospects once they've signed.

Who wins?

All schools, at least some of the time. An early signing window would give schools a more concrete view of which recruits are committed and which are wavering. Schools would be able to reset recruiting boards seven weeks before the traditional Signing Day and concentrate on unfilled positions, rather than continue to juggle multiple prospects who'd fill the same role.

Schools that evaluate efficiently. The schools that get out in front of recruits usually build the strongest relationships. If a previously underrated recruit gets attention from big name schools, other schools try to jump in late and poach, but there would be less time for that if some of those recruits sign in December.

Small schools. In April, SB Nation profiled how non-power SMU landing a QB commit did not deter power schools from recruiting him. With an early signing period, SMU would not have to hold on to him for as long.

There would be much less TV drama on Signing Day due to a reduced number of prospects flipping schools, perhaps drastically so. (Fewer chances to swipe prospects is likely a reason the SEC's one of the few opposed to the new rule.)

Players who can commit early. For the recruits that commit to a school and never waver, an early signing period would be a welcome change. It would give them certainty and stop the flood of recruiting pitches from other teams. They could then focus on school, which can get a little lost in all the madness.

It would save their families some money by meaning fewer unofficial visits, which are the kind not covered by the schools.

Who loses?

Schools that need more info. One of the biggest issues an early period would create is recruits signing before they get their fall semester grades. For a big portion of recruits, those grades could make or break whether they'd academically qualify at the school they just signed with.

This could be tough at schools with challenging academic requirements like Stanford, Vanderbilt or Northwestern. It could also be hard for schools that tend to recruit players with basic academic hurdles.

Schools would be forced to make decisions on players earlier in the process, which means basing evaluations on less information. If a school doesn't have a recruit's fall grades and is missing a large portion of film from that senior season, it raises the likelihood of making the wrong decision on a prospect.

That said, with new NCAA rules forcing high school players to get more key classes done earlier, schools will be able to make better-informed decisions.

Players who need more time. Before most kids decide on a college, they get a lot of time to figure out their choices.

That's not true for football players, who sometimes get short windows in which a scholarship offer is actually an offer. Windows would shrink even more with an early signing period, and players wouldn't be able to evaluate schools nearly as thoroughly.

Some athletes would be pressured into making decisions earlier, leading to less-informed decisions. If they decided to wait, they'd lose leverage and run the risk of losing that offer to someone who is ready to commit.

Many decisions would have to be made without official visits, the visits the school can pay for. Each recruit gets five of those visits, but they can only happen during his senior year. With high school football still going on, most athletes already have little time for these visits. With an early signing period, those who couldn't afford to pay for their own visits would be at a disadvantage.

High school coaches likely couldn't accompany players on many visits, and they're the ones most likely to know the right questions to ask.

High school teams. Everyone in high school football will be affected if an early signing day happens and the official visits rule isn't tweaked. Athletes could fall behind in school with a busier schedule. Coaches would need to make accommodations to allow players to miss practice and possibly games.


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Potential problems

While the best players should arguably never sign letters of intent, these letters are necessary for most. As it stands, college coaches have all the power, as they can back out of their agreements more easily than athletes can. In that sense, the power balance will become even more skewed.

Would athletes who sign in December be released from letters of intent if the head coach leaves after that? Because that will happen somewhere every season. Some schools might even arrange it on purpose.

What about if a player's primary recruiter or position coach leaves? So many coaching changes happen in late December that this would be a major issue. (This could hurt schools with coaches on the hot seat, because recruits would have no idea if those coaches would be around the next year. That could mean hastier firings and contract extensions alike.)

The visits question remains, as well. The visit schedule is chaotic for everyone involved already. Will the NCAA finally allow high schoolers to start taking their official visits before senior year?

The CCA is smart to make this a two-year trial program, with leave to make changes in 2018 based on unforeseen consequences. But some concerns are far from unforeseen and should be addressed now.