Monday, July 30, 2007

Debate: Early signing date for football

The debate over adding an early signing date for college football recruits in the SEC has been raging for some months now. This proposal was pretty much killed earlier this year, but the idea has refused to die.

So what's the big deal about this anyway? SEC basketball has an early signing period, and no one can deny the advantages -- you don't have the frenetic behind-the-scenes maneuvering that always makes signing day in football such a crap shoot. Players can opt out of the frenzy by signing early, or opt in by staying until the last minute, as Patrick Patterson famously did at the University of Kentucky.

So let's look at the arguments for and against this proposal that have been raised so far:

  • Mark Richt, Georgia (from article linked above):
    "I'm against it right now because I've got a feeling if we'd have an early signing period, everyone would be pushing for earlier official visits. I'm just wondering when high school students and coaches are going to have downtime. Are we going to spend all summer having official visits?"

  • Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee (from article linked above):
    Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said he understands the value of having an early signing period. Since the Volunteers recruit nationally, it would reduce the travel costs associated with its coaches flying across the country to visit committed prospects late in the recruiting period.

    "In those last two weeks, there's a lot of baby-sitting going on," Fulmer said. "If I'm not there, somebody else might be there."

  • Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt -- Rich Brooks, Kentucky -- Les Miles, LSU (from article linked above):
    Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson and Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said they were in favor of an early signing period (LSU coach Les Miles also voted in favor of it) because it would reduce the time they'd have to spend making sure committed prospects stay committed.

  • Urban Meyer, Florida (from article linked above):
    "Everybody wants to speed this thing up," Meyer said. "I'd rather have it happen later. I want to quit making mistakes. I think making a mistake in recruiting devastates a program.

  • Houston Nutt, Arkansas:
    "To me, it could open up to just about year-round recruiting. That's what I'm scared about," Nutt said. "It's just about to the point now where parents are bringing players up for an unofficial visit, but it's an official visit. Why? You have to show them the weight room, where they're going to eat, where they're going to live, you have to sit down with them."
None of these arguments are inherently good or bad, they all have something of a point. The Montgomery Adviser article goes on to indicate that Nick Saban and Tommy Tuberville may be opposed because they are noted for their success in changing recruits minds late in the process. Florida is apparently also famous for this -- this year alone, Florida changed the minds of four players who were verbally committed elsewhere.

Frankly, this business of changing verbal commitments has always troubled me. It sends a message that "All is fair in love, war and recruiting", and I don't think this is the message we need our young men to be starting out their career with. I hardly would place all the blame on the coaches, because I know there are many recruits who will verbally commit and then continue to visit other schools. To me, this is a poor practice, but it is what it is.

So how would an early signing period effect recruiting? Well, we would very likely see less of this jockeying for position that we see now, and when recruits suddenly see a team shaping up, they may well decide to go elsewhere. I think that is what Alabama, Auburn, and Florida are really thinking -- the fewer cards they have to put on the table, the better their odds are of getting great recruits, even if it works against the interest of the recruits themselves.

The Big 10 is all for an early signing period, as is the ACC. But the Pac-10 seems as opposed as the SEC is. That's interesting, but I can't come up with any correlative reason why it might be true. The Pac-10 and SEC have been world-beaters lately in football, but it isn't as if that is going to last forever.

Maybe a down year or two in the SEC or Pac-10 would change some minds, I don't know. But right now, the issue seems to be in limbo, although with the support it does have, it isn't going away any time soon.