In April, the NCAA’s Division I Council is expect to approve an early three-day football signing window that would occur in December, aimed at eliminating much of the drama that occurs between players and coaches. Instead, I’d be in favor of doing away with signing day.
If you enjoy the frenzied buildup to National Signing Day, and the increasingly ostentatious announcement of the latest incoming football classes (epitomized by Michigan’s glitzy “Signing of the Stars” event Wednesday), well, I have some bad news for you.
The recruiting times, they are a-changing. But, in my opinion, not changing enough.
By next year at this time, the early February letter of intent reveal we all know and love (or loathe) almost certainly will lack the pizazz it has now. That’s because the NCAA’s Division I Council is expected to approve, at its April meeting, sweeping reforms to the football-recruiting process.
The most notable of those would be the advent of an early three-day signing window in mid-December. Though the February signing day wouldn’t go away, the hope is that many kids would opt to get it over with early, thus doing away with much of the drama that prevails in the interim — the players who de-commit at the last minute, the ones who string along numerous staffs, the schools that abruptly pull their offers because someone better comes along.
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And as an added bonus, it might put a big kibosh on those cheesy ceremonies with the hats.
Washington coach Chris Petersen is in favor of this proposed change, though, like many people, he doesn’t seem convinced it would be a panacea for what ails the recruiting process. On Wednesday, when the Huskies unveiled their 18-man class, Petersen didn’t hide his feelings about the unsavory aspects of recruiting.
He expressed empathy for kids who commit early and then are bombarded with pressure to change their mind from what he termed “professional salesmen.” In a recent CBSsports.com article, Petersen referred to the “vultures” who descend upon committed high-school players in late November during a two-week window that allows coaches to have contact and noted, “I think that two weeks is a painful process for them. You have to go out and babysit those kids.”
The best remedy, Petersen said Wednesday, is to slow the process. Maybe this early signing date would do that.
“Hopefully, overall, it’s better for the kids and better even for the schools,” Petersen said. “It’s a long, hard process, and the last couple of weeks are in some ways getting ridiculous.”
But I’d like to see this go one step further. It seems likely to me that the early signing date won’t necessarily solve all these problems — they would just move them up by a month and a half.
Instead, I’d be in favor of an idea I first saw proposed by Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples and later advocated by coaches such as Rich Rodriguez of Arizona, Bo Pelini of Youngstown State (when he was at Nebraska) and Paul Johnson of Georgia Tech.
Namely, doing away with signing day. What sounds preposterous on the surface starts to make sense the more you delve into it. If you want a player, you make him an offer, no matter when it is. If he wants your school, he accepts it. End of transaction. None of the shenanigans that sully the recruiting soap opera now — at least in theory.
Anything that clarifies the long, ambiguous courtship that is recruiting is a positive step toward a more perfect union.”
“It would cut the (crap) out of it,” Johnson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2014. “All those people who think they have offers would find out they really don’t have offers. You know, if somebody walked in your school and said, ‘You have an offer,’ the kid could say, ‘OK, where is it? I’m ready to sign it.’ This would stop all that foolishness.
“And it would work the same way with the kids saying, ‘Yeah, coach, I’m committed.’ The college says, “OK, here’s your scholarship. Sign it.’ The kid says, ‘Well, I don’t want to sign right now.’ Well, then that kid is not committed. If a kid didn’t want to sign, they wouldn’t sign. And if he did sign, it’s binding. It would stop all this, ‘He’s a soft commit.’ It’s not a commit, it’s a reservation.”
It makes sense to me. Under Pelini’s vision, you could still offer scholarships to freshmen and sophomores in high school, an increasing trend. But with the knowledge that you’re bound to that player, no matter how his career progresses, I have a hunch that those proposals would slow down, if not stop. You wouldn’t have the spectacle of quarterback Tate Martell, who committed to Steve Sarkisian at Washington when he 14 and about to start eighth grade. Martell eventually de-committed from Washington, later announced he was going to Texas A&M, de-committed again and signed with Ohio State on Wednesday.
The point is, both sides will have to do their due diligence before committing to the other, when committing actually means something. Players would understand they lose their leverage once they sign. Schools would be much more inclined to wait until a player’s senior year before offering one of their coveted 85 scholarships, when the coaches can see how the player is developing — and how likely he would be to get admitted to school.
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I’ll anticipate your next question: What happens if a player signs with a school, in good faith, and then the coach is either fired or takes another job? Simple: I’d let him out of the deal and enable him to re-open his recruiting. It’s the fair thing to do, particularly under the current system of LOIs, which Sports Illustrated called “the worst contract in sports.”
Of course, the devil is in the details, and there might be unexpected consequences to this idea. There always are under a new system, until you work out the kinks. So far, the NCAA hasn’t shown any inclination to make such a bold change; yet the fact that college football is headed toward an early signing period next year shows it understands the system needs work.
Petersen said Wednesday that the idea of blowing up signing day altogether is growing on him.
“It’s interesting,” he said. “I remember when (Rodriguez) first started talking about that a couple years ago, and at first, I’m thinking, ‘No.’ But you can see some benefits of it. It kind of takes away some of — you don’t need to commit. Just sign. Done. We’re good to go.”
“That makes sense in terms of those types of things. But I think at the end of the day, what everybody is trying to do is make sure the kids can get it right for them and their families. I don’t think anybody’s in disagreement with that. Some of the processes these kids have to endure can be tough.”
There is no perfect system, especially when you’re talking about 16-, 17- and 18-year-old kids, in tandem with coaches under tremendous pressure to win. But, it seems to me, anything that clarifies the long, ambiguous courtship that is recruiting is a positive step toward a more perfect union.