Check your calendars. I bet I know what you had planned for December 20th. I’m guessing that there was a college football bowl game on the agenda. Duh. Perhaps some Christmas shopping or maybe even an ugly sweater party?
Well, you might need to rethink those plans. The early recruiting period in college football is now the law of the land. This year and every year going forward will see a window open up between December 20th and Dec 22nd in which NCAA football programs can officially sign their “committed” recruits.
The establishment of the early signing period is one of several rules that were approved by the NCAA a few weeks ago. It had been lobbied for by a broad swath of supporters ranging from coaches at lower level programs to high school coaches to power 5 coaches and to parents, players and administrators who have grown wary of some of the seedier and overwhelming tactics employed in the recruiting world.
Just about everybody supported this idea. Well, except for David Shaw. Here is what Dr. Grump Pants had to say about how an early signing period:
Stanford coach David Shaw says an early signing day for football would be "catastrophic" for the sport. Wants to see date pushed back.— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) November 13, 2012
For Chris Petersen and his Washington Huskies, the early signing period may as well be dollars dipped in purple. It’s money in the bank for a coach that actively invests in scouting, long-term relationships and reciprocal commitments.
Much has been written on these pages and others about how Chris Petersen places value on primary evaluation of prospective athletes. This isn’t to say that “stars are meaningless”. It just implies that Petersen favors a philosophy that does not normally accommodate blind offers to players who have only been evaluated on the basis of highlight reels or on assessments made by third parties.
The value of scouting will really show up during the early signing period. While it is true that coaches who are less focused on scouting their own players might simply copy the offer sheets of programs like Washington, the reality is that there is significantly less time for that copycat kind of strategy to work. Getting a recruit to fall in love with your program takes a lot more than just sending an offer letter through certified mail. It takes investment of time and emotion to build the relationship and to help the PSA envision what their life under your guidance for up to five years would look like.
But Petersen - and any other coach that truly invests in their own scouting - will benefit from quicker identification of the players and skill sets that they want to commit themselves to in the form of an offer. They will always, by definition, be “in on” such players faster than a copycat kind of recruiting outfit. That head start is meaningful in an early signing period scenario.
Long-term Relationships and Program Stability
Petersen and his staff enjoy tremendous relationships with families and coaches in the regions in which they recruit. Some of those relationships go back decades. On top of that, there may not be another coach in the PAC with as much job security as Petersen.
These two factors come into play as advantages in an early signing period world.
Firstly, Petersen’s relationships allow the prospects that he ultimately recruits to have more certainty in the kind of student athlete experience he is likely to have in four years at Washington. That clarity of expectation should engender more confidence in a potential decision by PSA to sign in the early period with Washington. Coaches who are new to the region or new in their roles - take Willie Taggart as an example - might have a harder time convincing PSAs to sacrifice the opportunity to keep their options open as they try to gather more insight into the situation that the new coach is developing.
Similarly, coaches on the proverbial hot seat - yes, I’m thinking of guys like Todd Graham and Jim Mora - might have a difficult time with the early signing period. Players looking at those kinds of situations have to consider whether or not they want to cut off other options in the event that the coach they would sign with gets released shortly after the early signing period.
Petersen will benefit from the fact that UW is about as stable as any other program west of Tuscaloosa right now. Players with a UW offer won’t really have to wonder if Petersen is going to be around while they are in school.
The Committable Offer
One of the more frustrating aspects of recruiting for all but the most elite players is the lack of reciprocation when a player gives a program a verbal commitment. Too many times have we heard stories about players who thought they were going to commit to the dream school on signing day only to have the program take that offer away at the last second in order to go accommodate a higher priority. We all know the kinds of coaches we are talking about. They lead the kind of program that leans heavily on leveraging their brands to flip players initially scouted and targeted by other coaches.
The only way that such a strategy can work is if those coaches are willing to not accept offers from the Plan B kinds of players that they routinely offer and then put on ice as they try to catch a bigger fish. It is often the case that the coach will tell the PSA that his offer is not committable - meaning that the program will not commit to honoring the offer made until they know that they really do want the player. This can be a brutal experience for a player, especially if he gets his offer taken away on signing day.
An early signing period greatly reduces that risk for the player. Consider the scenario where Player X gets an offer from his dream school in the early fall and immediately makes his verbal. Now, suppose he goes into the early signing period only to find that the actual letter of intent is not offered up by the school that he thought he was committed to for him to sign. The coach tells him that he won’t be able to give him that letter until the late signing period in February because he’s “not quite ready”. Think that player might want to rethink his commitment?
The early signing period forces coaches who like to play that game to show their hand. Fortunately for UW, Chris Petersen plays a different strategy. He only makes offers to players when he is ready to accept the commitment in return. Thus, an early signing period puts him at an advantage as players he offers know without a doubt that they have a spot on the team should they choose to accept his offer.
Incidentally, the flip side of that equation also works in Petersen’s favor. If a player commits to UW but refuses to sign the letter in December, you can expect UW and Petersen to consider that player not committed and to continue recruiting to the requirement. This is not to say that UW will walk away from such a player, but that they will consider the situation open. This kind of clarity can only help UW as they look to close out classes in February.
There are some dips and turns in this new twist to the rollercoaster ride of recruiting that all coaches will have to pay attention to, including Chris Petersen.
First is the issue of academic qualification. There are going to be many highly desirable PSAs that simply won’t have all their credentials in place to earn admission to more stringent academic programs by the time December 20th rolls around every year. This could put programs like Stanford, Cal and, yes, Washington, at a disadvantage relative to those that have more forgiving admission standards.
Coaching turnover is also an issue that Petersen will have to watch out for. UW’s staff have already experienced a decent amount of turnover thanks to the success of the program. It wouldn’t be shocking to see PSAs want to see how the annual carousel affects certain assistants - take Jimmy Lake or Matt Lubick for instance - before committing to the program. If UW sustains its trajectory, churn at the assistant level may be an annual headache even if Petersen remains in one of the most stable positions in the PAC.
In the grand scheme of things, these things are manageable compared against the backdrop of the advantages that the Huskies will experience in the new landscape.