- By Ken Sugiura
This December will bring in a change in the recruiting cycle for college football, as prospects will be able to sign letters of intent a month and a half earlier than the traditional February signing period. ACC coaches queried on the matter Wednesday gave strong indication that they expect committed players to make their verbal oaths official in December.
“Guys that are committed – why wouldn’t they sign?” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “If you have a guy that’s committed that doesn’t sign on the signing day (in December), you might better go recruit.”
Up until this year, that dynamic hasn’t been in play. Unlike every other NCAA sport except soccer and men’s water polo, football did not have an early signing period until this April, when the NCAA approved it. Until now, recruits had to wait until February of their senior year to sign, no matter when they made their college decision.
But coaches pushed for an early signing period, as they wanted to be able to more quickly complete the recruitment of prospects whose decisions have been made and not have to fend off rival coaches trying to poach their committed players. Likewise, there is a benefit for prospects who are ready to be finished with the phone calls, text messages and public scrutiny and make their decisions binding.
Coaches look at the December signing period – which will begin on Dec. 20 and end Dec. 22 – as the time when committed players will sign and not wait around for national signing day in February.
“We’re just looking at it, Dec. 20, as being signing day,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. “All the guys that want to sign on the 20th, we’re going to sign them. I mean, we haven’t looked at it really any differently.”
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson makes clear to prospects that a commitment means that they are 100 percent committed, as opposed to accepting a scholarship offer as a place holder while waiting for a better offer to come. His stance similar was to Swinney’s.
“I think they’re all individual (cases), but, most of them, I would think if you’re committed, then you would be signing,” he said. “If you’re not ready to sign, then you probably aren’t committed. That would be the way I look at it.”
Asked if it would be his expectation that committed players would sign in December, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher answered, “Yes, you’d hope so. I mean, that’s the plan.”
Syracuse coach Dino Babers made the point that some prospects may have to wait. A new NCAA rule that caps a signing class at 25 also stipulates that if one of the signees does not qualify academically, that scholarship spot cannot go to another prospect.
There are also questions about how schools will go about filling out their classes. Some coaching staffs may seek to do all of their signings early. Others may game the process by leaving scholarship slots open and see who is still unsigned after the early signing period. Another question will be how schools handle situations where coaches leave or are fired after the early signing period.
“It’s new to everybody in the country,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out.”
Another rule in the bundle of recruiting rules changes that were adopted in April may also influence how coaches function during that time. Beginning next spring, a prospect can now take an official visit from April 1 of his junior year through June. Until now, recruits could begin taking official visits at the start of their senior year.
Anticipating requests for early official visits, Duke coach David Cutcliffe said that coaches will have to begin their evaluations of rising-senior prospects earlier in order to vet which prospects they want to invite. Teams are limited to 56 official visits per year.
Cutcliffe said he’ll still be on the road in December and January to make home visits with seniors, “but while I’m on the road, I’m going to have to be doing the best I can of evaluating 2019 players that may want to set up visits in April,” he said. “I'm not all in favor of just bringing people in that I don't know enough about their character, their academics, let alone even their athleticism completely by that point.”
While there has been a push for an early signing period that is even earlier than December, Cutcliffe wasn’t so sure.
“We’ve tried to move up, move up, move up, and I’m not sure that’s the best approach to people making quality decisions,” he said.
Regardless, the early signing period is on its way.
“I think we’ve got to live through it a year or two and figure if it’s a great thing or not so great,” Richt said.