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Early sign of recruiting problems?

Envision the next frontier in recruiting. It's 2017. An early signing period, likely to receive approval this year from the Division-I football playing conference commissioners, has been at work for two cycles in recruiting.

Now check the pulse of your program.

How much can change in two years? What's the potential impact of two compromised classes for a group of schools that don't enjoy the advantages of the elite programs in recruiting?

As the Big Ten throws its support behind a three-day December window for prospects to sign letters of intent -- without an accompanying change by the NCAA to institute earlier official visits -- geographically isolated schools like Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and others nationally must consider a painful reality that strikes at the heart of the rich-getting-richer debate central to college football.

In advance of the June vote of conference commissioners on an early signing period to supplement the existing February date, Big Ten coaches and administrators met this month to discuss the proposal, designed to ease financial and time burdens on coaches and to keep pace with the accelerated recruiting cycle. If passed, it would allow prospects, on a two-year trial basis, to sign Dec. 16-18.

"I don't like to get on the soapbox, but I will. I'm not usually that kind of guy, personality-wise, but I certainly would like to be in a case like this. If it goes forward and [the early signing period] does pass, then that discussion about early visits has to take place immediately."
Nebraska coach Mike Riley

Commissioner Jim Delany, said a "strong majority" exists to support the proposal among Big Ten schools, who form one of the wealthiest and most influential conferences nationally yet offer a study in contrast amid the game's recruiting subculture.

And out of the meeting, a second conversation emerged, perhaps more integral to the Big Ten's competitive balance than an early signing period -- the implementation of early official visits, which appears much less likely to pass than early signing.

That won't stop a group of Big Ten coaches, already disadvantaged in recruiting, from pushing hard for early visits.

Newcomer Mike Riley at Nebraska is a potential leader in this fight. Riley offers a respected voice at a name-brand school. He opposes an early signing period. But if its passage looks inevitable as other leagues discuss the concept this spring, Riley said, schools that support early visits must act.

"I don't like to get on the soapbox, but I will," said Riley, hired in December at Nebraska after 12 seasons at Oregon State. "I'm not usually that kind of guy, personality-wise, but I certainly would like to be in a case like this. If it goes forward and [the early signing period] does pass, then that discussion about early visits has to take place immediately."

With a December signing period, the pressure to commit early would continue to increase, magnifying the importance of recruiting a prospect before his senior year. Riley said he believes December would quickly develop into the preferred option over the traditional period that opens February.

"There would be lots of pressure to get it done," Riley said. "And there are unintended consequences there."

Many programs in the Big Ten West can't rely on recruits to pay their way for a long trip to visit campuses in the summer.

"If you're in an area where there's a lot of good prospects, it's always been a positive," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It is important. When you talk about early signing, you want to give prospects that might be from a plane ride away an opportunity to see your campus."

And so, Ferentz said, early signing without early visits don't work well for Iowa and others.

"The two ought to go hand in hand," Ferentz said. "That would make the most sense."

To continue reading about the potential fallout if an early signing period is approved without allowing early official visits, click here.