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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
Mark Znidar, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Dublin Scioto senior Nick Conner could recite the names of Ohio State football players while growing up like he could the letters of the alphabet.

There is a poster of former All-America defensive lineman Mike Vrabel tacked on a wall in the "Buckeye Room" of his family's home.

So Conner did not have to sleep on it when coach Urban Meyer offered him a scholarship for the 2015 class during a break at a summer camp on the afternoon of June 18.

But Ohio State and Conner must wait until Feb. 4 -- the first day that letters of intent may be signed -- to make everything official.

The NCAA is considering the adoption of an earlier signing date, such as before a senior's high-school football season. Would Conner, a linebacker, sign on the dotted line today if he had the opportunity?

"Yes, I would do that," he said. "That would give me a jump on other players. Recruiting can get crazy. It takes a lot of time. It was a fun process, but I'm glad it's over."

But it's not a done deal. Kentucky coaches are still talking to Conner because they hit it off during a seven-on-seven camp this summer. He also considered Michigan State, Oregon, North Carolina State, Boston College, Pittsburgh and Duke.

ESPN recruiting analyst Jeremy Crabtree said there has been discussion of an early signing period since 2007. He estimated that 70 percent of Division I college coaches are in favor of it.

NCAA associate director of operations Susan Peal has said that "everyone wants an early signing period." The question, she said, is whether it will be in the fall, late summer or late spring.

"The landscape is changing," Peal said. "There has been an acceleration of recruiting (in recent years)."

But Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, who heads a national committee studying the issue, said there must be thorough discussion before changes are made. He offered more questions than answers on the subject during the MAC football media day in Detroit.

"There is a 20 percent to 30 percent coaching turnover every year, so what happens to kids who sign early?" he said. "Do you release them from their commitment? There are a lot of issues to hash over, such as kids making commitments after they make unofficial visits to a university or during a football camp."

The 12-member committee, formed by the Collegiate Commissioners Association, expects to have answers by next spring. Steinbrecher will get feedback during the annual American Football Coaches Association convention after the season.

Ohio University coach Frank Solich and Bowling Green coach Dino Babers are emphatic that an early signing period would benefit both athletes and colleges.

"Getting that done and sealed, the players can move forward and the colleges can move forward," Solich said. "You always are worried about players jumping ship ... to another school. No question an earlier signing day would save money. It saves wear and tear on your coaches, and in the long run it saves wear and tear on the athletes because they don't have that stress."

Babers compared the relationship between a committed player and a college team to a couple getting engaged.

"Think about asking a young lady to get married and she says yes," Babers said. "Then you go and ask another young lady to hang out. Is that right? You wait a year before you get married. The early signing period puts pen to paper. It ends the process. ... You don't have other schools talking to you."

"Flipping," in which a player changes his commitment, is the biggest fear for coaches having to wait months for signing day.

"My guess is they are trying to get flipping under control with the early signing period," Olentangy Liberty coach Steve Hale said. "I always tell my guys to commit before their senior year because it's a gamble to wait. That's a full ride (scholarship) we're talking about. That is a lot of money."

Liberty senior offensive tackle Hunter Littlejohn took Hale's advice and committed to Indiana. Syracuse, Cincinnati, Illinois, Duke and Purdue also showed interest.

"Absolutely, I would sign early if I could," Littlejohn said. "There's nowhere else I'd want to go. I have been to Indiana many times, and I like everything about it."

Westerville South offensive tackle Rob Dowdy has narrowed his choices to the University of Miami, North Carolina State, Michigan State and West Virginia. He said having to wait to sign isn't a problem.

"I have more time to think," Dowdy said. "A lot of players can have a great senior year and get a better offer."

Scioto coach Karl Johnson said there would be "upsides and downsides" to an early signing period. One downside, he said, is that it would move up the recruiting frenzy to players' junior year in high school. He also said the big losers in early signing would be late-blooming players who, in time, might have gotten offers from, say, a Big Ten team, rather than one from a mid-major.

"Colleges would have to be right about a player a lot earlier," he said. "With an early signing period, kids might hear, 'Hey, you better sign with us because if you sit around and wait, we might not come back around.' "

mznidar@dispatch.com

@markznidar

 

August 26, 2014

 

 
 

 

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