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Big Ten schools on board with early signing period

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Rosemont, Ill. — When it comes to an early signing period in football, the Big Ten seems to be on board — at least for the most part.

Michigan State and Michigan have both have declared their support for the Dec. 20-22 signing period that was approved last month. However, one of the biggest rivals to the local schools — Ohio State — has voiced its opposition to the extra signing period.

“We were not supportive of that legislation at Ohio State but since it’s passed we embrace it and deal with it,” Buckeyes athletic director Gene Smith said this week at the Big Ten’s spring joint meetings. “Most people felt there was a significant number of young people that were pretty firm in their decisions and needed that opportunity to sign early and make their commitments. If that’s the case it will play out over time. We’ll accept it and move on.”

National signing day has typically been in the first week of February, but the push for an early period has been on the docket for some time.

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Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips, the chairman of the NCAA Division I Council, said the goal was a comprehensive package of football recruiting rules after last summer’s satellite-camp issue sparked by Harbaugh.

“I feel really good about it,” Phillips said. “It makes practical sense.”

The early period brings football more in line with other college sports, which have had similar signing periods for some time.

“It mirrors what we’ve done with other sports,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said. “Most other sports have had early signing periods for a number of years now. It never really made sense that football wouldn’t have one.

“It was a little bit ridiculous that a lot of these student-athletes were making decisions about where they were going to school without us being able to provide them with an official visit to inform their decisions. It realigns the timeline so we can be a more active participant in their decision-making process.”

Both Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio have said in the past they support the early signing period with Harbaugh calling the old system “antiquated.”

At the Big Ten meetings, Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said it would be beneficial all the way around.

“I think there’s probably positives and negatives for both and it’s just gonna take some time to figure out the values,” Hollis said. “I see more of an upside. It just lets things kind of rest and know where folks stand, both from the recruit’s standpoint as well as the school’s standpoint.

“I think the more things we can do to bring calmness to the process, I think that’s one of the efforts with this. And by calmness I mean for everybody.”

Some of that calmness could lead to less chaos leading up to signing day. In recent years, the level of players committing early and then changing that commitment has been on the rise.

That could be curtailed by the early period, and it was mentioned by Smith, even as Ohio State and coach Urban Meyer have been at the forefront of actively recruiting players committed to other programs right up to signing day.

“We really feel that young kids today are pressured into making a lot of decisions early, and we’re a part of that,” Smith said. “I really like the time frame for a young person to make their decision, to be firm in it. We all use the term ‘flipping’ in February and January, so I’m a little old school on that.

“I’ve always felt that was the appropriate time, the season was over and you might be playing basketball or whatever, get time to make your visits. But the data shows a lot of kids made early decisions and stayed true to it.”

That could make life easier for other teams in the conference if they have players locked up in December.

“We’d rather have (the early period) than go through what turned into an awkward December-January babysitting period where you’re just trying to hang on to commitments when people made pretty rational and reasoned decisions,” Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski said. “Why not give them the opportunity to just be done with it? I think it makes great sense from a young person’s perspective as well as the institution.”

The move to December could just be a start.

Originally talks included a potential signing period late in the summer and that’s something that most of the Big Ten’s athletic directors said might happen down the road. Until then, however, they’ll follow the new directives closely.

“There was talk about September before the high school season started so you could play your season and I probably don’t see that happening in the near term,” Hollis said. “I think this is something that’s in play that is kind of the break of the academic year, the break of the football season, the high school football season being over and probably a pretty good step and right about where it should be.”