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Publish date: Feb 1, 2011

Early signing concept: All talk, no action yet

By Michelle Brutlag Hosick
NCAA.org

Several years ago, the American Football Coaches Association opened a dialogue about creating an early signing period for Division I football players. Even though the proposal was supported by the Big Ten Conference in 2008 and just last year attracted the favor of the Atlantic Coast and Big East Conferences, the commissioners who govern the program aren’t rushing to any judgments.

The concept will continue to be a topic of discussion among review committees, with data and careful thought both part of the decision-making process.

Proponents of the early signing period say the opportunity to sign early would give prospects who already know where they intend to enroll the chance to make it official by signing a binding agreement. National Letter of Intent data show that the vast majority of prospects commit on the first day of the signing period, meaning they are likely quite clear on their decision.

If a window for early signings were available, coaches could then focus on recruits who haven’t committed before the regular signing period instead of “babysitting” the ones who have. The early signing period would also allow football recruits to focus on their academics for the senior year since recruiting stops when a letter of intent is signed.

Those who oppose the idea, however, cite concerns about the relatively short time between a possible December early signing period and the regular period in February. Most sports with multiple signing periods have an interval of several months.

Opponents further predict an early period in December would increase recruiting pressures during the football season.

They also worry about recruits signing before taking an official visit and about the early signing period becoming a de facto regular signing period. In addition, they question the timing, fearing that a December period would interrupt bowl-game preparations, and that anything earlier would distract from the regular season or occur before much academic work in the senior year of high school.

A change could also put more pressure on coaches to focus on recruiting instead of their teams during the season or to push the limits of recruiting restrictions like off-campus contacts in the fall.

To date, the opponents have carried the day. National Letter of Intent program director Susan Peal said both sides have valid points.

“The commissioners are still not there yet,” she said. “The CCA is not going to make changes just for the sake of change. They always look at the data each year and make decisions based on that and membership feedback. They really don’t make knee-jerk decisions.”