DESTIN, Fla. – A regular discussion item for football coaches at the annual SEC spring meetings has popped up again.
UGA's Rodney Garner and Mark Richt have met the media each year on National Signing Day. Despite proposals and discussions over the years, football remains without a second signing date that would be similar to the one used in college basketball. (Photo by UGA Sports Communications)
How might the SEC feel about an early signing period for football?
“That’s another one of those things that I don’t think there’s any consensus on that,” UGA coach Mark Richt said.
The idea of an early signing period for football has been out there for a while. Proposals in the past -- in theory -- have been supported by various coaches and conferences and focused mostly on the creation of a mid-December signing date, but any true advancement has been halted by coaches' reluctance in pinning down an exact format.
“Would I like for someone to come up with a solution that says we don't have to babysit guys that have been committed to us for a year all the way until the national signing date? I'd love that,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “I think every college coach would say he loves that. But I don't care how you look at the signing date, there's some circumstance that sort of creates a huge change in the recruiting calendar that I don't know that everybody is ready to embrace.”
As it stands now, football is the only NCAA sport without either a second signing period or a regular period that is extended half the year.
But as more and more prospects commit early to schools each year, the notion continues to make more sense as programs have more desire to lock down prospects who wish to go ahead and sign at that time rather than wait until February’s National Signing Day.
Another national push for an early signing date could be made soon through the American Football Coaches Association. The organization’s executive director Grant Teaff recently addressed the increase in teams that are recruiting another’s committed prospects to the wire – and thus forcing that school to continue to recruit the young man full-speed -- by telling the Palm Beach Post, “It's not a good situation. In all honesty we need to find a way to make it better. The folks in the role of leadership need to do that."
But when the debate turns to specifics, Saban’s uncertainty has been roundly shared by his peers.
Nick Saban on the idea of an early signing period: "I don't know that there is a good solution to that one."
“There’s a lot of support in our room that we don’t really disrupt the recruiting cycle,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said Wednesday.
Asked about the idea of an early signing period Wednesday, Richt suggested that he was against the idea and cautioned, “I think we’ve got to be careful.”
“I think our recruiting model right now is good. I think it’s fine,” Richt said. “I think if you change it, some of the reasons why you change it may happen, and it may be a positive. But you may cause a chain reaction.
“I don’t think anybody is interested in pushing their recruiting calendar up to the point where in-season you’re more worried about an official visit weekend than you are coaching your own players. We want to coach football during football season. We want to recruit when it’s time to recruit, and we know recruiting is all year around, but the emphasis is a little bit different. And we also would like to keep a little sanity in our offseasons too, a little bit of sanity in the summer. You might actually be able to be a husband and father and do some of the things other people do, normal people do.”
Saban’s view from past SEC spring meetings sessions is that, “Even though we've talked about it a lot, we've never really ever supported any scenario that somebody has been able to come up with.”
Much of that is tied to the timing of any proposed early signing date, which could cause issues at any point.
Suggestions have been made for a summer date rather than the December proposal. But a summer signing date gives schools far less of an opportunity to gauge a prospect’s academic standing and also locks a recruit to a school that may either dismiss a head coach or have him leave.
“If we have a December signing date period, you're going to have to recruit guys more during the season,” Saban said. “So your in-season recruiting is going to be more important. You're probably going to have to change the rule in the spring to have a contact period, so that's going to escalate that. You're going to be recruiting all summer, and nobody is going to be able to go on vacation.
“If you make it August 1st, then high school coaches are going to scream and say, 'Well, the guy knows he's going to this school or that school, what's his motivation to play well for me in his senior year?' Now I know you can say, 'Well, that doesn't happen in basketball,' but I think basketball and football and really not the same, because of the contact part of football and all that kind of stuff. I don't know that there is a good solution to that one.”