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The Pro and the Con: Debating the Early Signing Period for CFB

The NCAA is opening the debate on an early recruiting signing period. Kirk and Chris square off on both sides of the issue in our latest "The Pro and the Con"

SEC Mike Slive is opposed to an early signing period for football
SEC Mike Slive is opposed to an early signing period for football
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

News came this past week that the NCAA is tabling (for now) discussions on whether to implement an early signing period for football.  With both Mike Slive (SEC commissioner) and Jim Delany (Big Ten commissioner) - the two most powerful men in the sport - opposed to the idea, it wasn't going to happen.  The issue will now be pushed back to meetings in 2016 for further discussion.  In the mean time, let's take a look at the issue and discuss the pros and cons of the idea.

The Pro: An Idea Whose Time Has Come (Chris)

First, let me say that its about time I get to be "the Pro" in one of these things. For all of you who are thinking "you'll always be a 'con', Chris," I have a simple message for you: Suck it!

Although the idea of implementing an early signing period has been tabled for the time being, it is one whose time has definitely come. the world of college recruiting has descended from being a shady enterprise to one that is now so riddled with corruption and abuse that it makes southern Congressmen blush.  An early signing period certainly would't halt this descension into Dante's realm, but it would at least give the more well-intended coaches and prospective student athletes a better opportunity to find one another.

That, by itself, is a huge win for college football.

Opponents would argue that there is already too much pressure on coaches to offer kids too early and for PSAs to "get on the boat" of the programs that they are the most interested in even before they've had the opportunity to best evaluate their options. To implement such a rule would only serve to amplify that pressure. I'm sympathetic to that point.  However, I'm not sure the situation could get any worse. The truth is that young players, as early as the eighth grade, are getting commitable offers from coaches around CFB right now.  Programs like LSU, Alabama, USC and, yes, UW have all jumped into those waters.

An early signing period could actually keep coaches honest and protect committed players who may have stopped their recruiting process from coaches who might pull the old switcheroo on them them during signing day.  There are plenty of examples of coaches abandoning recruits on signing day in order to accept the commit of a higher rated kid who happens to fall in their lap at the last second. Consider the scenario where that same coach decides to not accept the signature of that same kid when he is ready to sign and make it official in a mid-December signing period. Do you think that kid and his family might have second thoughts about the commitment of that coach to him?  if they do, at least there is plenty of time left for that PSA to find a better fit.

For a coach like Chris Petersen, an early signing period would be a boon. Petersen doesnt play the game of "keeping his options open" like a Steve Sarkisian or Chip Kelly may have played. Petersen prides himself on conducting his own evals and only extending offers to kids he is prepared to accept a commitment from.  Unlike Sark, there are no "contingent offers" with Coach Pete.  An early signing period evens the playing field for a guy like Petersen. PSAs who may have a contingent offer from a program like Oregon or USC would have to weigh that uncertainty against something more concrete from a program that only makes offers that they are willing to commit to.

There are questions to be sure. the biggest might be what happens to a recruit should the coach that he commits to in an early signing period leave his job.  In my mind, this is a challenge that is not unique to the early signing period debate. While I selfishly would prefer that commitments be enforced even in light of coaching changes (because watching Sark ravage our 2014 signing class sucked), it is pretty obvious that any scholarship offer should have an escape clause in case of staff turnover.  Such a standard ought to exist no matter what the sig on date is.

I'm sure Kirk will make an eloquent counter argument in the Con below. I encourage you to read it with an open heart and an open mind. but, before you do so, hit up the poll and vote for an early signing period. Do it now.

Con:  There's a Good Reason It's Never Been Implemented (Kirk)

I may be an idealist, but when discussing proposals having to do with rules around recruiting student athletes I take a look at how such proposals would affect the student athletes themselves and whether they benefit them or harm them.  And in the case of the early signing period proposal for football, I believe it harms them.

Proponents of the idea will say that one benefit to this idea is that it helps recruits by allowing those that are ready to make an early decision to do so and avoid all the distractions that come with the recruiting process go away.  Except that this proposal wouldn't do that.  By setting the date in December, it means that a recruit would still play their entire senior season of high school football before being able to officially sign and put an end to the recruiting process.

Further, by putting the date in December this means that such a signing period would be smack-dab in the middle of "Silly Season" when the college football coaching carousel is at full swing.  At least with the current February signing day most of this process has come to a conclusion.  But in December?  What happens when a kid that was pressured by a coach on the hot seat to make an early commitment and sign early finds that coach fired a week later, or sees that coach bolt to a newer, "bigger" job.  And of course this proposal - drafted by coaches for their own benefit - doesn't include a waiver that would allow an early signee to back out of that commitment if their coach subsequently is no longer going to be their coach.

An early signing period also puts more pressure on kids to take official recruiting visits during the season which can be a distraction to the player while juggling school work and high school team related practices and training.

Worse, an early signing period makes it that much tougher to truly gauge the academic progress of kids and whether they will actually end up meeting minimum academic qualification requirements.  Many of these recruits are borderline anyway and need to push hard in those final quarters to get qualified.  At least with the current February signing period a coach can see the progress of the student midway through their winter quarter of their senior season.

It will also further accelerate the recruiting timeline and result in more spring recruiting contacts by coaches at high schools, adding that much further disruption to the scholastic progress of these kids that may already be struggling to get their grades in order.

Bottom line, this is a proposal that is one-sided - it's for college coaches to find a way to lock-in recruiting results earlier in the process for greater certainty, but with significant downsides to the kids themselves.  Instead of implementing an ill-considered proposal such as this, the sport should be encouraging high school coaches, counselors and parents of athletes to help recruits understand and navigate the recruiting process and make informed, well-reasoned decisions.  And if a kid wants to commit early and doesn't like getting bugged by other coaches trying to get them to flip?  Ignore their calls, texts, IM's, etc.  Any annoyance from that process is a small trade for the downsides that would come with an early signing period.