You may (or may not) have heard that over the summer the NCAA decided to allow an early signing period for college football which will begin on December 20, 2017 and run through December 22. The move was widely hailed by high school coaches, parents, and players, many of whom would just as soon get the incessant recruiting process over with as quickly as possible.
It has the potential to be a good thing for prospects who have their academics in order, as they’ll now be the proverbial “bird in the hand” who can fill a slot early instead of leaving coaches waiting for a test score or grade to come back in July.
It also has the potential to be a win for prospects who have been loyal in their commitments, but who might nevertheless get bumped when a player higher on a school’s board decides to go looking late in the process.
There’s also the potential for players to find out too late that the coordinator they thought they’d be playing for will not be on campus, as assistant coach hiring season is only really now cranking up. And the potential for schools to “hard sell” prospects, telling them to sign in December or lose their spot.
In other words, teams will know now who’s really committed and who’s been holding a spot while waiting to see if another school will have a slot. It moves forward the moment of truth, so to speak. On the flip side, prospects who have their grades in order and want to sign in December but are told that maybe they should hold off a bit will have some warning that State U. may not be as committed to them as they are to it. Shopping for a new school in late December isn’t a whole lot better than doing it in early February. But it’s a little better.
All of this is conjecture, because this has never been done before. But here’s what I think is going to happen.
December 20th is the new February 7th.
SB Nation’s Bud Elliott has been reaching out to coaches for some time now to find out what their plan for the new early signing period is. They’ve been pretty clear about it: they plan to sign everybody they can on December 20th. Schools like Georgia that have verbal commits for a majority of their available scholarship slots will plan for most of those verbal commits to sign next week.
December 20th is becoming the new “National Signing Day” to the extent that such a thing exists. With more and more top notch recruits waiting until after NSD in recent years, it’s become a bit of a fluid concept anyhow.
The February signing period looks like it will begin to resemble the spring signing period in basketball. It will be for rounding out classes with that one extra interior lineman or defensive back you need to fill out the depth chart. Or for the guy who didn’t have his qualifying test score in December but now appears set to enroll.
Schools will drop the axe faster than ever before.
Did you notice that it seemed like a lot of programs, including those in the SEC, accelerated the firing of coaches who might have made it to Christmas in years past? That’s no accident. The early signing period means that schools have been on a truncated time line to secure new coaches and get them out on the recruiting trail. Schools like Georgia with incredibly stable coaching situations will benefit from that certainty in the new world of December signings.
Schools like Tennessee on the other hand that dither their way through a coaching search that lasts into mid-December will go from having seven weeks for coaches to get to know their new players down to two weeks. I’m not saying the days of a Kirby Smart coming in and putting together a top five class out of the gate are over.
But those coaches won’t have the time to methodically do so. They’ll have to rely on relationships built with their prior program, which incentivizes hiring coaches who are a “geographic fit” and disincentivizes hires from outside the region and Power 5. If you’re Florida, for example, why would you hire the coach from Bowling Green, who doesn’t know any of the players being wooed by his SEC coevals? You’d be better off to hire a guy with a long SEC track record who’s already been in the living rooms of many of your commits and top targets.
You can never step in the same river twice.
Don’t be fooled by the folksy drawls and humble post-game thank you speeches: college football coaches are a shrewd and devious lot. If there’s a way to exploit this new setup or a loophole to be found, at least one of them will locate it. The NCAA is going to fine tune this process, or at least retune it.
Fine tuning implies that it will run more smoothly in the future and frankly there’s no guarantee that this thing doesn’t instead become a raging goat rodeo that has to be reined in as time goes by.
For now, we’re all going to learn as we go. So we’ll be here next week, treating December 20th as if it’s the biggest day in college football recruiting and we hope you’ll join us. Especially if your name is Brenton Cox, Jamaree Salyer, or Cade Mays. Until later...