Mazurek: Early signing period hurts recruits
Marek Mazurek | Thursday, January 18, 2018
Every so often, the NCAA takes two steps forward in improving conditions for student athletes.
But just as often it takes one step back.
And that’s exactly what happened with the well-intentioned early signing period for football recruiting.
For the first time this year, the NCAA introduced an early signing period wherein football recruits could choose to sign a letter of intent from Dec. 20–22, instead of waiting for National Signing Day in early February.
The goal was to give recruits who were confident in their commitment a chance to sign and thereby eliminate the calls and drama of the month leading up to National Signing Day and for the recruit to enjoy the last few months of their senior season hassle-free.
And for some recruits, that has been the case and that’s great. But for many others, the early signing period has caused a good deal of trouble.
The dates of the early signing period (Dec. 20–22) comes right after the regular season finishes and before most bowl games and that’s part of the problem right there. Because at the same time, the coaching carousel is whirling as head coaches and coordinators are fired or leave for better offers.
A few teams made these changes before the early signing period in order to have an established leader recruits can identify before they sign on the dotted line. And while it’s problematic that the recruits have very little time to get to know the new coach or coordinator before the early signing period, it beats the alternative.
That alternative: Recruits sign during the early signing period, only to have coaches and coordinators leave or get fired after the recruits have signed letters of intent.
That exact situation happened this year at Arizona, Alabama, Notre Dame and LSU. If you tally up every school where a position coach left, the list would go on for three pages.
It’s extremely unfair to recruits to sign a letter of intent during the early signing period — or on National Signing day — only to have the main coach that recruited them or the main coach who will run the recruit’s position group pack up and leave while that recruit has to stay.
Some will say “Well, if a recruit is worried about a coach leaving or if he isn’t sure, then he should wait until the February deadline to sign.”
That is true, the recruit can exercise the option to wait, however, multiple head coaches — including Irish head coach Brian Kelly — have said that if a verbally committed player doesn’t sign during the early signing period, the school will not view them as committed and will continue to recruit that position.
In other words, schools and coaches are telling recruits, “Sign during the early period, or we’ll recruit other guys who could take your place.” If you’re an 18-year-old recruit and you have coaches pressuring you and you’re unsure of the whole landscape, signing early can seem like the safer option, right up until that coach who was pressuring you leaves for more money or prestige.
That’s why the NCAA should change a few things about the early signing period.
First, recruits who sign early should be allowed out of their letters of intent in the case of a coordinator or head coach leaving or being fired after the early signing period. This would truly make the commitment go both ways.
It would be great for recruits because they would be given flexibility should a major change within a program occur, but it’s also good for coaches, because schools will be less likely to fire coaches if they risk losing a significant number of recruits. Under this proposed rule, almost all coaching changes would happen in the weeks immediately after the regular season, and while this would be chaotic to say the least, at least recruits would know exactly who they’re signing up to play for before they do it.
If the NCAA deems that change to be too radical, it should at the very least let players transfer without having to sit out a year if they signed a letter of intent before their coordinator or coach left or was fired. The NCAA already does this in cases where a school is facing a postseason ban, so why shouldn’t it do it for schools who broke implicit promises to recruits?
There are many fans out there who get mad when a recruit goes back on a verbal commitment, and it’s understandable to a degree. A commitment from a recruit should mean something.
But it also shouldn’t be hard to understand that commitments work both ways and that the NCAA shouldn’t punish 18-year-old kids for the decisions of coaches.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.