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Majority of college coaches favor early signing period

By Mike Baldwin Published: July 6, 2008

"Everyone stays on these kids,” said Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis. "I mean, kids are getting called at midnight (the night before signing day). We've forgotten these are 17- and 18-year-old kids. They could get it out of the way and take the pressure off.”

New era
It wasn't that long ago national signing day was filled with drama and intrigue. That's no longer the case.

Many schools will have the bulk of their 2009 class committed before they kick off the 2008 season.

Early offers didn't exist until Penn State coach Joe Paterno first tried the strategy in the early 1990s. Now it's essential to land early commitments and the tools are in place to do just that.

Summer camps are used to evaluate prospects similar to the NFL combine. Videotape from a recruit's junior season is analyzed.

One advantage to an early signing period is hundreds of thousands of dollars could be saved if assistant coaches didn't have to "baby sit” commitments to prevent someone in Tiller's proverbial wizard's hat "stealing” their guy.

"To spend the amount of money we spend over the last month of the recruiting season is pretty ridiculous to hold on to kids,” said Arizona coach Mike Stoops. "We're always talking about money. That's the biggest waste of money.”

When Ralph Friedgen took the Maryland job in 1997 after spending five years in the NFL, he came back to a completely different world in recruiting. The internet had taken recruiting to a whole other level.

"It's amazing to me that a lot of people are making money off these kids,” Friedgen said. "And look at what's happening to the kids' egos. They eat this stuff up. People around the kid all help inflate the balloon.”

What's next?
Rivals national recruiting editor Jeremy Crabtree predicts an early signing day will be the No. 1 topic at the AFCA convention in January because many assistant coaches are frustrated that nearly 200 players de-committed in the 2008 class.

"A lot of assistants feel something needs to be done,” Crabtree said. "There would be a whole new can of worms that would have to be sorted out. But there are big-name guys at big schools who feel you need to curb de-commitments.”

Tiller, who will retire after this season, is an early signing day guy but said football recruiting is more complicated than other sports.

"Our sport is different from basketball in that we don't have AAU football,” Tiller said. "A lot of recruits take their visits in the fall and after the season.

"People ask me what I'll miss most when I'm done coaching. One thing I am not going to miss is recruiting during the season.”

Willingham said the topic needs thorough examination before legislation is proposed. An early signing day also would have to be approved by the Collegiate Commissioners Association.

"We have to get more input from high school coaches before we move forward,” Willingham said. "The No. 1 factor is the high school athlete. No. 2 is high school coaches.”

Most high school coaches The Oklahoman interviewed are in favor of an early signing period. Many prefer an August signing period so players could end the process before their senior season, but that's unlikely.

Too many coaches are concerned August would force recruits to take official visits in the spring and all but eliminate assistant coaches taking vacations during the summer.

That's why most believe a mid-December early signing period is the ideal comprise. They believe it would benefit recruits who have made up their minds.

"Most of your negative recruiting occurs after Christmas when coaches pester kids those last six weeks,” said Louisiana Tech's Derek Dooley. "You would still have three weeks of official visits.”

Tulsa coach Todd Graham coached high school football for 10 years before moving to the college ranks.

Graham understands the frustration when an assistant coach toils for months only to lose a commitment at the 11th hour. He also relates to high school recruits and high school coaches who can be overwhelmed by the process.

"We recruit a kid and he's committed to us for eight months,” Graham said. "Then you get down to the last week of January and he jumps ship. You lose them late. That's unfair. Kids do change their minds. You want to make sure they end up in the right spot.

"December is perfect. It allows players who know where they're going to get signed, sealed and delivered. It takes a lot of pressure off them. I think this would make it fair for everybody.”

What date do the coaches want?

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