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Majority of college coaches favor early signing period

By Mike Baldwin Published: July 6, 2008
After Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez convinced a wide receiver to switch his commitment hours before national signing day, Purdue coach Joe Tiller's terse response ran in newspapers across the country.

"If we had an early signing date, you wouldn't have another outfit with a guy in a wizard hat selling snake oil to get a guy at the last minute,” Tiller said. "But that's what happened.”

Many football coaches have experienced similar situations. That's why there's growing sentiment college football needs an early signing day similar to basketball.

In a recent poll conducted by The Oklahoman, more than 77 percent of the 119 Division I-A football coaches favored an early signing period. A few prefer August, but the majority chose December to supplement the traditional February date.

"It's been gaining momentum the past few years,” said Washington coach Tyrone Willingham, president of the American Football Coaches Association. "I know a lot of coaches are frustrated. But we need to be very prudent. We have to look very carefully at all the issues.”

The No. 1 problem is what date to choose?

Most coaches prefer mid-December, the junior-college signing period. Some coaches want a late December date to allow recruits two additional weeks for official visits. But some fear a signing day during the Christmas holidays and bowl season isn't feasible.

A handful of coaches are lobbying for August so recruits could get it out of the way before their senior season. But August would create a whole new set of issues.

The Big 12, ACC and Big East have been in favor of an early signing day. The Pac 10 has been overwhelmingly opposed.

The SEC has flip-flopped, which is why an early signing day has gained momentum the past year.

Last year, SEC coaches voted 9-3 against an early signing day. This spring, the SEC voted 9-3 in favor.

Official visits are a key issue.

University presidents and athletic directors will not endorse any early signing day without official visits. That's the primary reason SEC presidents and ADs voted down the proposal days after SEC coaches voted in favor.

"How can we sign a guy and he has not made an official visit to our institution?” said Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs. "How can we sign a guy when they haven't had a chance to sit down with the school or college dean and actually go through the process?”

Status quo
The majority of coaches believes it would save money and benefit recruits to implement an early signing day. But there's a faction that prefer the status quo, including USC's Pete Carroll and Florida's Urban Meyer.

"Everybody wants to speed this thing up,” Meyer said. "I'm not comfortable signing kids you don't know. I want to quit making mistakes. A mistake in recruiting just devastates a program. The only way to minimize the mistake factor is to get to know someone.”

Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is the only Big 12 coach who opposes an early signing day.

"There's a big push for it right now,” Leach said. "I've always been against it. When I was 18 — even now that I'm 46 — the notion that the path in life is so clear cut you don't need time to make a decision, and sometimes reconsider, is ridiculously naïve.”

Some mid-major programs believe an early signing day would only widen the recruiting gap since BCS schools have larger recruiting budgets and travel advantages.

"It's a rich gets richer, poor gets poorer type of deal,” said Troy coach Larry Blakeney. "The smaller schools already are at a disadvantage. The big boys would get all the guys they want in December and then prioritize the few guys they want in February.”

Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill agrees.

"Schools in the six power conferences would have a huge advantage due to finances,” Stockstill said. "Schools in other conferences are not able to get out as much. Their summer camps aren't as well attended.”

Another concern is the large amount of turnover that typically hits late in the year. A recruit may commit to a coach in August only to have that coach fired in November.

"What about the kid who makes a decision he regrets and can't get out of it?” Leach said. "If they're in the (high school) playoffs they have to reach a decision during their season. To me it's putting the cart before the horse. It's insane.”

But many college and high school coaches believe it's insane for a recruit who has had his mind made up for months to have to wait until February to sign a national letter of intent.

"Everyone stays on these kids,” said Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis. What date do the coaches want?

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Tyrone Willingham


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