BEAVERTON, Ore. – To head coaches across the Football Bowl Subdivision, the addition of an early signing period in recruiting comes with one clear benefit: allowing prospects to sign in late December removes much of the drama from the homestretch leading into national signing day in early February, a boon for prospects and recruiters alike.
There’s a reason this alteration received strong support from members of the American Football Coaches Association during the group’s annual meeting in January. Upon its approval in April by the NCAA’s Division I Council, AFCA executive director Todd Berry called the rule change part of “by far the most sweeping legislative package we’ve had since I’ve been in coaching.”
So it’s a win for coaches – for Power Five coaches who want to lock down a top class well in advance of February and for Group of Five coaches weary of seeing their under-the-radar recruits poached by big-name programs in the final weeks leading into the traditional signing day.
But recruits see the legislation from a different perspective. For the elite of the elite in this year’s class – gathered this week for The Opening, a high-profile recruiting event held at Nike’s headquarters just outside of Portland – the new signing period brings positives, with many agreeing that it eases a hectic process, but also potential negatives.
“I think there’s a good and a bad to that,” said Mission Hills (Calif.) quarterback Jack Tuttle, who has verbally committed to Utah.
Start with the positives. Recruits who spoke with USA TODAY Sports were in consensus on how the December dates allow for the chance to shut down what can be an exhausting, yearlong slog to signing day: “Once I heard that I could (sign) I knew I was going to,” said Providence (Fla.) tight end Will Mallory, who committed to Miami (Fla.) in April. “If you know where you’re going to go, you shouldn’t have to wait. I mean, if I could sign now I would.”
Additionally, for those prospects who don’t plan to enroll early – a shrinking number among major recruits – signing in December ensures a spot in their future program’s class. “The good is getting there, signing and securing your spot,” Tuttle said.
That’s one of the primary benefits for programs that find recruiting success with late-blooming prospects. Rather than sweat out the final weeks and days until February, hoping that no power programs drop in with a late offer, coaching staffs may be able to secure their hidden gems in December – if they can convince them to use the December signing period.
Yet there are potential sticking points for all recruits regardless of star ranking, including an ironic twist: While the December dates are geared to relieve pressure on coaches and recruits alike, it may instead add a degree of stress and strain to the process.
Consider one example. Say one recruit gives his verbal commitment to a program in June but decides not to sign in December. What signal is that sending to his potential coaches? Will staffs view such recruits as verbal commits or, because they opted not to sign in December, will coaches opt to recruit over them – meaning find another prospect to replace his spot?
“That just depends on how good your relationship is with the coach,” said Yoakum (Texas) wide receiver Josh Moore, who committed to Nebraska earlier this month.
“If he’s 50-50 about you, he’ll just move onto the next one. That just depends on how bad they want you, how bad they need you, stuff like that.”