College coaches come out in favor of December early signing period

NASHVILLE -- The college football coaching community has collectively, and for the first time, taken a stance on an early signing period.

During the final day of the American Football Coaches Association convention, more than 100 FBS head coaches gathered together for more than three hours to discuss NCAA Proposal 2016-16, legislation suggested by the NCAA Division I Council, Football Oversight Committee and Collegiate Commissioners Association that would create early signing windows in June and December, allow recruits to take official visits in the summer and create a 10-day limit on summer camps.

After the meeting, AFCA executive director executive director Todd Berry said the coaching community is ready to take “a step toward multiple signing days,” and FBS coaches are “unanimously in favor of a mid-December signing period.” The mid-December signing window is familiar for coaches, largely because it’s currently when midyear junior college recruits sign their national letter of intents. In 2015, a proposal for an early signing period in mid-December was tabled to conduct an 18-month comprehensive study of the entire recruiting process and it was from that study that the current measure was created.

“We think a signing day on the third Wednesday in December is the least intrusive to the current model and allows for the best study of what is best for everybody involved,” Berry said. “We think this is a very, very fair way to take that first opportunity and step with the understanding that you need to take a look at all of your access points and potentially another signing date. But we think college football needs to evaluate this step first before you move from there.”

What coaches are not in favor of is the proposed June singing window and adjustments to the official visit calendar.

Berry said there was “zero support” from FBS head coaches for the June signing period, mainly because there was concern about being able to accurately evaluate where a student athlete is at academically. There was also “unanimous worry from the high school coaching community that recruits might sit out their senior season if they’ve already signed with a college.” The proposed June signing period was one of the most hotly debated topics this week at the AFCA convention and has been the most controversial since its original introduction in October.

“I’ve been a big advocate of an early signing period, but I wanted it to be Sept. 1 and then in February,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “I’m OK with the idea of December one, but I have no clue how we got to the idea of a June signing period. I’m against what’s on the table. I’m totally against that. It just makes absolutely no sense at all.”

Berry also said FBS coaches are "collectively not in favor of adjusting the official visitor calendar." Proposed reform would allow for recruits to take official visits in June and July before the start of their senior season and during the same time schools host summer camps. There were a number of coaches that expressed concern that official visits during the camp season would essentially create tryout camps and prospects could burn up all five of their official visits before they hit the traditional fall and winter official visit period. The coaches are, however, in favor of the 10-day camp limitations.

Berry will formally present the AFCA’s stance on early signing periods and changes to official visit calendar to the Oversight Committee next Tuesday at the NCAA convention. He is hopeful now that there’s a “mandate” and a “single voice” from the coaching community, the committee and the Collegiate Commissioners Association will listen to their feedback and modify the legislation.

The CCA controls the national letter of intent and when recruits can officially sign with a school and several commissioners also serve on the Oversight Committee. The CCA is expected to meet again at the NCAA convention and then again in early summer, where many commissioners expect a vote to finally take place. The NCAA portion of the package is expected to be a big point of emphasis at the NCAA convention, most believe it’ll eventually get to a vote in April. The committee is currently in a sponsor modification phase and can make changes to the proposal.

“I think they’re actually excited to hear a really strong voice from the coaches instead of a different coach here and a different coach there,” Berry said. “I think the oversight committee is going to be very, very excited to hear these finding, especially with the way the coaching community unified on such an important subject.

“I think we have some very, very strong feelings and quite honestly some very, very accurate feelings on why we moved the way we moved. I trust the oversight committee will continue to do a wonderful job trying to protect the student athlete and the game, and we’ll put it in their court and see where they want to go with it. But this is the right thing.”