Early Period Idea Could Change National Signing Day

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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)


Imagine Alabama football coach Nick Saban at Wednesday's signing day news conference in Tuscaloosa discussing only safety Xavier McKinney and kicker Joseph Bulovas, while Georgia's Kirby Smart is talking in Athens just about the talents of cornerback Tray Bishop and linebacker Nate McBride.

Tennessee's Butch Jones would seem busy by comparison, fielding questions about running back Timothy Jordan, receiver Josh Palmer and defensive linemen Matthew Butler and Ryan Thaxton.

It seems ridiculous to picture such scenarios, but those would have been the only commitments at those schools had the proposed mid-December early signing period been in effect this recruiting cycle.

"I think having a mid-December signing date certainly allows some guys who know where they want to go and want to end recruiting to be able to do that," Saban said last week while attending a Senior Bowl workout. "It also affords the midyear players, which there are more and more of, to be able to sign and end recruiting a little early."

College football recruiting could be drastically different this time next year should a proposed 72-hour early signing period of Dec. 15-17 be approved by the NCAA's Division I Council, which could vote as early as April. The recommendation was made earlier this month in Nashville by the Division I Football Oversight Committee.

The proposal would not erase the existing signing day, which is the first Wednesday in February, but it would be forever changed. For more than two decades, many fans of their Deep South programs have taken a day off from work to mill around their favorite athletic complexes and cheer when the signatures on fax machines arrive.

Will such a day ever exist after Wednesday, or will there be two occasions to celebrate?

"I think what will happen is that it will be broken up into two distinct signing periods that will be addressed and covered on a national basis through about every medium that we have right now," ESPN national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill said Monday. "What you might end up having, though, is that it might split up on its own into almost a Top 25 program signing day and then a signing day for other programs beyond that, because there will be more attention for those programs in February.

"The bigger programs might be finishing up on just a guy or two, where programs further down are still trying to decide on 20 or 21. It will be split up, but I don't know if you will have any less coverage or passion for it."

At least there won't be three.

There was also discussion in Nashville of adopting an even earlier signing period in late June to go along with the mid-December proposal. That concept was widely panned before being punted.

"Every high school I go into is very thankful we're not going to have a signing date before the season," Saban said. "The unintended consequences of that would have been some of the same things we're dealing with now in college -- guys choosing not to play in bowl games. Football is a developmental game, and you may have a guy sign with a team and say, 'I'm not going to play my senior year.'

"That wouldn't be good for the player, the game, his high school teammates and his competitive character in the value he's trying to create as a player."

There already has been less and less mystery with each signing day due to the increasing number of early enrollees. Alabama set a program record at the beginning of the month with 12, while Michigan and Oklahoma each enrolled 11 and Ohio State, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech each had nine.

Georgia has six early enrollees and Tennessee has five.

"You're talking about kids who have maybe passed 18 credit hours before they even get on the football field and play a game," Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente recently told USA Today. "On the back end, it allows you to graduate earlier and opens up some options for those kids in terms of what they want to do.

"Part of that is why you're seeing the number of graduate transfers increasing."

Derek Tyson, who covers Southeastern Conference recruiting for ESPN, believes the mid-December signing period is a great idea for those players who know where they want to go and that it will save some colleges from wasting resources. He does sense that the annual recruiting powers will benefit even more when compared to the existing format.

"My biggest concern is that some of the smaller schools will have to wait for their classes," Tyson said. "A South Florida or an East Carolina will have to wait on guys who might be interested in bigger schools, and they will have to wait on bigger schools to see whether their classes are full or not.

"Meanwhile, you could have an Alabama that has filled up its class in mid-December and can get a head start on the next year's class, so schools like Alabama and Ohio State will be way ahead of the game compared to smaller schools, who will be behind the trail on that next year's class."

Contact David Paschall at [email protected] or 423-757-6524.

February 1, 2017




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