Harbaugh backs early signing, calls recruiting calendar ‘antiquated’

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh called the current recruiting system “antiquated” and supports the early-signing proposal announced last week by the NCAA Division I Council. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio understands it likely is the wave of the future but said the changes could negatively affect some high school senior football players and their recruitment.

The Council has proposed introducing two, 72-hour signing periods – the last Wednesday in June and one in mid-December – during which football recruits can sign National Letters of Intent. Currently, players can only sign starting the first Wednesday in February after their senior season of football. That date would remain under the current proposal.

If the proposal is adopted by the NCAA Board of Directors, it will go into effect for the 2017-18 recruiting cycle.

“I’d be in the category of for it,” Harbaugh said Tuesday on the Big Ten conference call when asked about the proposal. “I feel if somebody wants to sign an agreement they should be able to sign it before the first Wednesday in February.

“We haven’t changed it in so long. It’s been the same antiquated system for 30, 40 years and the obvious thing is I think people make decisions earlier and they should have the ability to sign that agreement.”

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Dantonio explored the topic even more during the Big Ten call and wondered how official visits would be handled. In the current system, players can’t make official visits until the beginning of their senior years. That would have to change to allow players desiring to sign in June a chance to visit. And then, how many summer visits would be allowed?

“It know it’s probably inevitable that these things are going to happen,” Dantonio said. “I would think if you’re going to have official visits early, my take on things would be to cap those so you’re just not overrun with official visits in those months.

Mark Dantonio

“I think (early signing is) inevitable and you’re either going to be part of the solution here or you’re going to stand by the sideline and it’s going to happen. I guess I would be in favor of doing these things to some degree.”

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said on the call he’s in favor of the early-signing period but said there are many details to be worked out, including what happens if there’s a coaching change or a player lets his academics dip before graduation. He said a positive is that an early-signing period would protect a player who gets injured during his final season.

“I am in favor of making sure what we do for student-athletes in the recruiting process is transparent and there is protection for the student-athlete and his family and his future and his education,” Fitzgerald said.

Dantonio said the early-signing periods would challenge how staffs evaluate players late in their high school careers and the opportunities for some late bloomers.

“I do think it makes it more difficult,” Dantonio said. “No. 1, it lessens the evaluation of a senior. A senior who has a great year may get left out in the cold a little bit because the numbers might not allow that particular institution to continue to recruit him because they have commitments earlier.

“But I think it’s heading that way already because so many people are offering players as sophomores and juniors. I really think their maturity in terms of their physical maturity sometimes doesn’t hit them until sometime going into their senior year. It’s a delicate situation. There’s no real assurances you’re going to get what you want, but there never is.”

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Alabama coach Nick Saban told reporters last week he is “absolutely, positively” against any early-signing dates.

“I’ve always talked about football being a developmental game, and that doesn’t give the guy that’s a little bit of a late bloomer that maybe does a good job in maybe (a) camp over the summer and has a really good senior season (a chance),” Saban said. “There are gonna be more and more guys sign early. We’re gonna have more and more guys visiting, we’ll have guys visiting in the summer. I just really don’t get that. I mean I really just don’t get that.”

The proposal will be discussed at the NCAA Convention in January.