As it becomes more and more apparent that some form of an early signing period has a good chance to work its way into college football, it’s time to caution against unintended consequences.
On the surface, an early period -- whether it's before the season, shortly after Thanksgiving, or at some other point -- has been billed as an opportunity for high school seniors to end their recruiting process so they can move on with their senior years. No more phone calls, no more text messages, no more distractions. And for some of these kids, it’ll work out just like that.
Just don’t confuse the notion that because it’ll help make the recruiting process better for some, that it’ll have that effect on a majority. That’s unfounded.
Stanford coach David Shaw has been one of the most outspoken coaches in the country against implementing an early signing period for various reasons, but he’s particularly wary of how it’ll change recruiting practices.
"The reasoning behind it is really bad," he said. "I think we should let these young men take as much time as they need without coaches forcing them, because that’s what will happen. College coaches will be pressuring these guys to sign early, and I think that’s wrong."
The rebuttal to this concept seems to be something along the lines of "you can’t force a kid to sign."
For the four- and five-star recruits of the world -- the ones whose recruitments are more heavily publicized -- this is probably true. The player, in this case, holds the upper hand, and coaches will always be more willing to invest more time to land potential stars.
It won’t work that way for the less-heralded recruits, though. They’ll instantly become susceptible to conditional offers -- a program might extend an offer good only through the first signing day. Even if a recruit isn’t ready to make the final call, he could feel compelled to sign anyway out of fear he could miss out on what will ultimately be his best, or only, opportunity.
Not all programs will operate that way, but enough will to change the recruiting game.
The bottom-line result here is that more kids will inherently wind up at places that might not be the best fit. And because of that, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which it doesn’t lead to more transfers. Speculating on how widespread these potential pitfalls would be is nearly impossible to do, but they certainly need to be taken into account before the NCAA moves forward on the issue.
What also needs to get ironed out is how strictly the NCAA will enforce those early letters of intent.
The way Shaw sees it, those kids that get pressured into signing before they’re ready won’t ultimately be held to those commitments if they change their minds down the road.
"There will still be guys that sign in that early signing period that will want to change. Whether it’s because of a coaching change or something else happens," he said. "They’re going to want to change, and [the NCAA] is going to let them out of it."
If that’s the case, then what’s the point?
Shaw’s words have always rung sincere, but it should also be noted that a change to the current system would likely affect Stanford more negatively than other schools because of the emphasis the school places on its academic admission standards. Often times, even with some of the most high-profile recruits, the football coaching staff doesn’t get the green light from the admissions office on specific kids until days before the February signing day.
Those in the Stanford football program aren’t confident that process would change with an earlier signing day, and most hold the opinion that it shouldn’t have to.
Then again, this is the NCAA we’re talking about. Why would academics play a role?