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Why schools push so hard for recruits to enroll early

Among Alabama, Florida State, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Michigan, there were 36 ESPN 300 prospects who enrolled early in the 2017 class. That is 36 highly sought-after recruits whom coaches at those programs didn’t have to worry about flipping to another school or decommitting in the final stretch of recruiting.

The 2017 recruiting class seemed to have less late drama than years past, and that could have something to do with the growing number of early enrollees. Among the top 50 prospects in this class, 26 were midyear enrollees, which included 11 of the 15 five-stars. And of the top 150 prospects, 54 enrolled early.

When a prospect enrolls midyear, he typically is admitted to the school at the beginning of January and is locked in to that school once he attends classes. That means the prospect is bound by transfer rules and off-limits to any opposing coaches who would otherwise try to keep recruiting that player until signing day.

“It definitely helps to get them to enroll early so you don’t have to babysit the last 2½ weeks of recruiting,” one FBS coach said. “It’s less you have to worry about.”

With coaches always looking to steal recruits away and top-ranked prospects so sought after, if a coaching staff is able to get early enrollments, it eliminates any angst about losing those commitments.

The conversation typically starts before a prospect’s senior season between the recruit and the coaching staff. If the recruit is open to enrolling in college midyear, typically in the beginning of January, the coaches and prospect work to figure out the academic requirements that would allow the prospect to graduate high school early and enroll.

Having those prospects on campus and off-limits to any other recruiting activities gives coaches extra time and resources to focus on the remaining targets yet to commit. It has also, seemingly, been used as a de facto signing period.

“The No. 1 reason we want a lot of midyears is to get them for spring practice so they can contribute freshman year,” another FBS coach said. “No. 2 reason is so we can get them in the boat and focus on finishing the class.”

Getting those recruits in school essentially creates a faux early signing period for the programs that can get them onboard. What’s interesting now for coaches is that there soon could be an actual early signing period in December.

If the December signing period is approved and early enrollee numbers continue to rise, we could see less and less drama around the February signing day. That’s not such a bad thing in the minds of coaches, as it creates less work and less stress for each class.

“The more early enrollees, the more of your class is set,” an FBS recruiter said. “It allows you to focus on the next year and send [coaches] out to see underclassmen.”