Early signing period for football has its backers

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

While Michigan State has been on an impressive run recently of gaining verbal commitments for its 2016 football recruiting class, the excitement for coaches and fans often changes to nervousness.

That's because the practice of "flipping" recruits has become the norm, and many players are never a sure thing until they sign their national letter of intent in early February.

One solution has been the idea of an early signing period, an issue that had plenty of support this week during the Big Ten's athletic directors meetings.

"I think the majority of the people in our league are for it," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "A super majority."

Other conferences have proposed the idea, and a working group formed by the Conference Commissioners Association — the body that governs the national letter of intent program — put together a proposal for a December signing date and will vote on it next month.

There still is likely to be debate, especially from schools that have been adept at landing players who already "committed to another school."

"I'm torn," Smith said. "I understand the arguments, if a young person feels confident in that decision and is clear (with it) then it makes sense to provide them that opportunity. My concern is that our coaches are outstanding sales people. And I'm a little traditional. I like the old-school model: Let them take their time. People are changing their minds constantly, just like students do with their (post-graduate degrees). I'm torn. I'm interested in the conversation."

Some of Smith's colleagues offered up more sweeping ideas.

"There's an interesting thought about getting rid of signing dates altogether," Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said. "I don't know whether that'll have traction. But if a kid has gone on an official visit, any time after they begin their senior year in high school, they could have a two-week period and then ask for the letter of intent. I don't think that's a bad concept. All this silliness with the hats and stuff, it might take some noise out of it."

Last year, Atlantic Coast Conference officials proposed a signing period in August, but this month jumped on board with the December plan.

Pat Narduzzi, the former Michigan State defensive coordinator who is at Pittsburgh, said he preferred the December date because it required minimal changes to the current recruiting calendar.

"You're recruiting every month of the year," Narduzzi told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "There's got to be some down time, and that would be the one time you can do it."

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany didn't discount the idea of an early signing period being voted in, but wants it to be part of a bigger picture issues with football.

"I think the possible issue of an early signing period has some momentum," he said. "But there also maybe some momentum to fold that into more broad recruitment issues — the issue of coaching at camps, the issue of oversigning, the issue of grayshirting, the issue of early enrollment.

"I think maybe a more global view in football off the field may drive people to say, 'Let's look at an early signing date.' "