National Signing Day 2012 provided quite a rush for Ohio State fans. Kyle Dodson, a Cleveland native, who had verballed to Wisconsin, flipped to the Buckeyes and many of us were ecstatic. His announcement was colorful - the stuff of YouTube fame - and OSU fans rightfully celebrated. In truth, Dodson was the last of a very impressive group of players that changed their minds after Urban Meyer was named the head coach at Ohio State. Other players who flipped to the Buckeyes included Noah Spence, Joey O'Connor, Taylor Decker, Tommy Schutt, Se'Von Pittman, and Camren Williams. Quite a haul! Of course, an early signing period in college football would have kept that from happening, and the 2012 OSU class would have been mediocre at best.
So the debate rages on. Should the NCAA mandate an early signing period in football, as exists in basketball and many other sports? And if so, when should it occur?
A survey conducted in 2009 revealed that 73% of FBS coaches and 82% of FCS coaches syupport an early signing pereiod, although their proposal was for a December date, which would only be about 6 weeks earlier than at present. As more and more coaches suffer the pain and dissapointment of having verballed players poached, the popularity of an early signing day increases. And, with players increasingly making their decisions earlier than in the past, it seems to make sense to at least consider an early signing period.
Briefly lets take a little time to weigh out the arguments on both sides.
Those in favor of an early signing date, point to the following:
1) The benefit to the young men, themselves. Without doubt, recruiting has become a big-time business, and many youngsters want to end the drama and pressure by making an early commitment. Problem is, just because they issue a verbal in the spring or summer before their senior year does not mean that their recruitment will end. Many schools will continue to call them and try and get them to change their minds. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, who favors an early signing day, says the following, "It helps them academically when they're not fielding 12 calls a week for 45 minutes Monday through Friday (while) getting ready for a game, trying to study for school, trying to get their academics up, trying to take the ACT and SAT." Not sure Fisher really cares about academics, but his logic is pretty strong.
2) The benefit to the coaches. Don't kid yourselves, most coaches who argue in favor of an early signing day are looking out for number one. They would like to have some security and know that they won't be hung out to dry by a late day switch. In truth, though, I am sure coaches would like to be able to spend their fall focusing on preparing for opponents and not having to pursue kids that have already pledged their loyalty. Miami basketball coach Jim Larranaga loves the early signing period in his sport because, "By getting a lot of your recruiting done prior to the start of your season, you can really focus on your team and your season."
3) The benefit to the schools. Recruiting budgets might also profit from an early signing period, as there would be less travel, because as it is, coaches have to continue to visit players who have issued a verbal commitment, right up until Signing Day.
Of course, there is another side to this whole debate, and it is worth considering, too.
First of all, if you are a coach at Alabama, or LSU, or might I say, Ohio State, an early signing day might not be so desirable. The elite schools have the opportunity to consider a player they might have passed over, who has a big senior season. Even though the young man has issued a verbal to a lesser school, coaching staffs can continue to show interest and, in many cases, are successful in getting him to flip their way.
In that process, not only do the larger schools benefit, but so do late-developing players, or kids that might have fallen under the radar for some reason. This is a trickle down effect. A kid who pledged to, say, Western Michigan, blows up his senior season, and gets late interest from Michigan State. He changes his mind and signs with the Spartans. Good for him. Then, Western Michigan works to fill the empty spot and a kid who may have been headed to an FCS school like Illinois State suddenly gets a phone call and a chance to play at a better level. And the whole process continues on down. In the end that benefits the players, themselves.
When it comes to an early signing day, another thing to consider is coaching changes. Should a player who makes a binding commitment in August, be held to that commitment if the head coach or the coach that recruited him leaves the school? Some propose an escape clause the lets the players change their mind if the head coach leaves but that isn't enough. Many choose a school because of a position coach. Also, when a school hires a new coach in December or early January, that may change the whole equation. Lots of young men knew about the past success of Urban Meyer, and once he was named at OSU, they at least wanted to consider attending school in Columbus. However, if they had already signed with another school they would not have had the option of checking out Ohio State. The point is, a lot of young men might later regret their decision but be bound to it. ESPN analyst Lee Corso asks, "How many kids truly know (that early)? A quick decision usually means a bad decision."
There is one more factor that needs to be weighed in. Basketball is far easier to analyze at an early date than football. Kids play a lot more games during a basketball season than they do in football. Plus they all join AAU teams and travel the country in the off-season. Coaches have so many more opoortunities to see basketball stars in action. But because of the risk of injury, football players don't particiapte in dozens of games and full-contact camps throughout the year. There is less film to analyze, and many times, they aren't discovered until their senior season. Besides, many kids are still growing significantly during the summer and fall of their senior years. They are in weight rooms bulking up, and might look very different as seniors than they appeared as juniors.
So while most fans are clamoring for an early signing peeriod, I am not convinced that it's a great idea. Sure, there are benefits. It does take the pressure off of kids who know where they want to go. It does allow coaches to start recruiting juniors, getting a jump on future classes. I guess that is why this whole argument is so relevant right now. Ohio State and Michigan have all but filled their 2013 classes. With potential silent verbals they may already be full. So, sights are being set on the class of 2014, but all the while, coaches have to keep an eye on those verballed in the class of '13 lest they get stolen from right under their nose. It would be nice for them to be able to get all the present verbals to sign on the dotted line right now, and then all the focus could be placed on the rising juniors.
Interesting. Last year Urban would have hated an early signing period. This year he might actually like it. And therein lies the rub!
As you can see, there are plenty of factors to consider. And, if the NCAA does opt for an early signing day when will it be? August? December? Not even the proponents can agree. In truth there are advantages and disadvantages to both dates.
So let the debate rage on. For now, I am pretty satisfied with the way things are. I am not completely against an early signing day, and think it will probably come at some point in the future. But this is not an open and shut case as many contend.