Early football signing period could be at hand
An early signing period for college football is close to becoming a reality after years of debate and discussion about giving prospects the opportunity to end their recruitment before February.
The Collegiate Commissioners Association, which administers the national letter of intent recruits sign to make their verbal commitments to a school binding, will meet next week in Asheville, North Carolina, and are expected to vote Tuesday or Wednesday on a proposal to create a new three-day signing period in December.
The dates would match up with the signing period for midyear enrollees.
The early signing period would start this year on Dec. 16 and be reviewed after two years.
"Seeing the rule approved is a distinct possibility," said Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, who has led the committee assigned with coming up with a proposal.
Steinbrecher said the other possible outcome would be tabling the issue to first allow the NCAA's new football oversight committee to weigh-in on other aspects of recruiting.
That's not an outcome Steinbrecher would prefer.
"Quite frankly, given the two-year look-in that's part of the proposal, I would just as soon say, 'Let's either move forward or not move forward,'" he said. "Let's get off of being in limbo, which is where we have been for a long time."
The Southeastern Conference is the only FBS league that has publicly stated opposition to the proposal.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has said the conference has a range of concerns — enough to fill a three-page memo — with the proposal, including the impact it would have on in-season recruiting for college coaches and high school teams.
"What happens in early December when conferences are playing championship games? When the next week, people are in final exams and you're asking some prospects to sign national letters of intent midweek during their own state high school playoffs?" Sankey said at the SEC spring meetings last month.
"You don't have access to another semester's academic information where you're making decisions and probably don't have test scores at any point during the senior year? I could go on and on with the incremental three pages of concerns."
Sankey said the SEC fears an early signing period will eventually replace the current National Signing Day, which is the Wednesday of the first full week of February.
SEC coaches are not necessarily against the idea of an early signing day for recruits who have not wavered from nonbinding verbal commitments, but most of them prefer it to be the Monday after Thanksgiving. But SEC administrators would rather just stick with the status quo than switch to what has been proposed.
ACC coaches voted in favor of the proposed early signing period during their spring meetings and Pac-12 coaches also support it.
The Big 12 and Big Ten have not put forth official conference positions on early signing, but Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told reporters at Big Ten spring meetings a "super majority" of schools in his conference was in favor.
Big 12 schools are divided, commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.
"I want to listen to the debate at the CCA meetings," Bowlsby said.
The Group of Five FBS conferences — the Mountain West, American Athletic, Sun Belt, Conference USA and Steinbrecher's MAC — all support an early signing period.
Coaches tend to be all over the place when it comes to early signing. Aside from the December proposal and the SEC's preferred post-Thanksgiving plan, some have suggested a period during the summer so prospects could sign before their senior seasons.
And a few such as Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Youngstown State coach Bo Pelini, formerly of Nebraska, have suggested doing away with signing periods all together. Prospects would sign whenever they are ready.
Almost every plan has benefits and shortcomings.
"Administrators and coaches have spent the past months talking about it. Really thinking it through and that's the main thing," Steinbrecher said. "Let's go up. Let's go down. It's time to move on one way or the other."