Early signing periods have been a highly debated topic over the past couple years, especially for those in the Southeastern Conference.
The SEC lives its recruiting game on the premise that they don’t “recruit” their players, but instead “hand-pick” them. When an SEC team gets involved on a prospect, they inherently expect to at the very least finish in the player’s top 3, while also fully expecting to land their commitment.
With that train of thought in mind (no pun intended), the Alabama’s, LSU’s, Florida’s and Tennessee’s of the world really go after a select group of players and whittle their list down as those players commit to either their school or elsewhere. Then they come after tier-2, tier-3 and so-on from their list as the recruiting season gets late. This is when they can flip a lot of players from their original commitments.
Here’s a comment from a recent ESPN article on the situation by Kentucky coach Mark Stoops:
“I know the [Southeastern Conference] coaches are not in favor of changing the recruiting calendar,” Kentucky’s Mark Stoops said in January. “If things start moving up, it changes the way we’ve been doing things for a long time.”
Well that’s correct coach! SEC teams would no longer be able to pick their way through the litter, they would instead really have to decide whether or not to take some chances and invest resources and an offer to a position while perhaps losing out on plan B and C along the way. Players of value will always be there in the end but this move could level out the playing field just that much more as far as elite-level athletes are concerned.
Also, this would change how the SEC recruits outside of their area as well. Waiting to look for popular recruits who are ‘on the rise’ as their senior seasons progress will be less available than before. As it currently stands, a prospect’s commitment only means that he is a valued recruit at a high level, in the future, it could mean he’s off the board completely.
In my opinion, this would be of benefit to the NCAA (which is why they would even consider this), especially with the Playoff in place, as parity could mean increased interest as the year comes down to the wire. Vegas should be a big fan of this as well. Better matchups mean more money all the way around.
Teams like Washington State, meanwhile, get three or four of these awesome four-star verbals early each year but get them stolen by more prestigious teams late in the process. This is why Mike Leach and many other Pac-12 coaches have been an advocate of an early signing period for a long time. Mike Riley will benefit at OSU, Sonny Dykes at Cal, of course Mike Leach at Washington State and you know Petersen at Washington knows a thing or two about losing recruits to more prestigious schools from his Boise State days.
It is frustrating as a coach to have to pick up the scraps when you have invested a crazy amount of time and energy into holding a recruit from decommitting, only to watch him drop off of the board with less than two weeks to go. Anything to decrease that stress and quite frankly, pure waste, would significantly help mid-level and even lower level teams.
Perfect examples of that can be seen from this past WSU recruiting class with 4-star MLB Chandler Leniu, 4-star DT Marcus Griffin in the early going, then K Tristan Vizcaino and OT Miguel Machado changing their mind at the 11th hour. In this new scenario, being four of the early verbal commits to WSU, they very well could have been signed by Leach and Co. Then their recruitment would have been finalized, the Cougars could have crossed those positions off the list and moved onto the rest of their positions of need. Instead, as mentioned, all four decommit and you’re left with having to commit resources to whatever’s left late in the process.
There is no perfect scenario in which it turns out better for the less prestigious teams every year. A guy like Cougar WR Gabe Marks may not have been available to Leach from SMU had this been in place two seasons ago (though there would likely be some sort of contingency plan in place for coaches moving to new schools, no idea what that would encompass though). This could also backfire to a certain extent as well, as lower-level ‘backup plan’ recruits may say “let’s do this” before a team/coach is ready for them to. Then of course the spot is filled. Many teams will probably start to lay off of these offers early in the process to avoid these issues, but this is just where the SEC has been excelling in the art of the “flip”.
Ultimately though, this would level some things out in the early going for recruiting, especially when it comes to little-known athletes (nationally) that could graduate early but in previous years still blow up their senior year of football and really not start receiving the big-fish offers till late November to early January. Basically, this will reward more ‘local’ teams for doing their homework early on many recruits. Washington State could be a huge beneficiary in recruiting the state of Washington.
For more information on what’s going on with the situation, read this ESPN article.