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Take Two: Is an early signing period worth it?

Prepare yourselves because the recruiting calendar in college football appears poised for change.

Though the SEC has remained a consistent opponent to an early signing period, the rest of the NCAA seems to be ready to act on a mid-December window in which recruits can sign with colleges.

Whether a resolution passes remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Someone won't be happy with the outcome.

To break down the argument, Sam Khan Jr. and Alex Scarborough each took a side in the debate.

Khan: I think an early signing period is a good thing. The majority of the other sports, including basketball, have two signing periods, an "early signing period" and a "regular signing period." There are some players who know exactly where they want to go, have known for a long time and if they want to make their commitments official sooner than the first Wednesday in February, I say let them. It would cut out a lot of the babysitting that coaches do in January when they travel to check in on longtime commits, just in case another school sees an opportunity to poach said prospect at the last minute.

Would an earlier signing date mean some coaches might pressure players who aren't ready to sign early to sign in the early period? Probably. But there's plenty of pressure in recruiting already. One coach told me that if a prospect is "verbally committed" to a program before the early signing period but chooses not to sign then "he's not really committed." I think there's truth to that, but there's a lot of kids who know by December of their senior year (the proposed early signing window) where they want to go.

The primary drawback for prospects is if coaching changes happen after they sign in the early period. By February, just about every head coaching change that's going to happen has happened. That hasn't stopped other changes from happening though -- we've seen a recent trend where some schools wait until after national signing day to announce that an assistant coach is leaving -- and an early signing period might exacerbate that, especially since assistants change jobs well into January, when the American Football Coaches Association convention happens. December is also a prime time for head coaching jobs to be filled.

It's ideal to say "commit to the school, not the coach" and I agree with that statement 100 percent, but that's not reality for most. Prospects often choose their colleges based on the relationships with a head coach or assistant coach, and I don't see that changing.

That problem can be partially solved by doing one thing: Allowing head coaches to have more face time with prospects. Currently a head coach gets one in-home visit with each prospect (assistants can have two) and coaches aren't allowed to be out looking at prospects during the spring evaluation period, while assistants are. If the NCAA relaxed the restriction in the spring on head coaches and allowed another in-home visit, that might help.

Lastly, if an early signing period happened, it might be worth considering adjusting the calendar slightly for things like official visits. Currently, those occur in the fall and winter. What about allowing high school juniors in their second semester (or possibly a small window during the summer between their junior and senior years) to take official visits? Prospects could make more informed decisions and not rush to squeeze in five official visits before the December period.

While an early signing period would take away some of the drama from the current national signing day, I think it would be a net positive for schools and prospects.

Scarborough: I’m beginning to feel like a caveman these days. I miss defense. I think if you can’t run between the tackles, you can’t win championships. And at the risk of exposing the whole ugly truth about myself, I thought the College Football Playoff wasn’t the best idea. (Gasp!). I grunted, said it was going to take away from the importance of the regular season and watched as I was completely and utterly wrong.

Well, you can call be backwards, but I’m sticking with my old-school thinking when it comes to an early signing period. I just don’t see the point. It’s not an early signing period, it’s just a second signing period. It’s one more melodrama we get to see scrawled all over the internet and television.

An early signing period in December doesn’t help the currently absurd recruiting calendar, it only serves to accelerate it. You’re kidding yourself if you don’t think borderline recruits won’t be pressured into signing before they're ready. On top of that, they’ll have to take their official visits during their high school football seasons, which isn’t good for them or their teams. Meanwhile, coaches in college will have to recruit even more ferociously during their seasons, drawing attention away from where it should be -- on the field. Honestly, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Now it’s not that I’m totally averse to change. I think recruiting needs to be fixed. The commitment-decommitment game is maddening, and it’s as bad on the players' end as it is the coaches. I agree that coaches should have more contact with players. You can call me radical, but I even question whether commitments should be taken in the first place. As one SEC coach told me, all a commitment amounts to is a “reservation.” So what’s the point? Raise your hand if you’ve never called a restaurant, set a time to come in and bailed for a better option.

While the idea of a somewhat-binding contract sounds good in theory, I worry about its pitfalls. If a coach leaves, a recruit is left scrambling. He might have an out in his letter of intent to go elsewhere in the event of a change at head coach, but what about the other schools that were interested in him before he signed? Have they moved on by that point? Would it be too late in the game to find a new home? And on the subject of exceptions, would the out clauses include whether a coordinator or assistant coach leaves? As we all know, the closest relationship a recruit has is not usually with a head coach, but an assistant. It’s not advisable, I know, but players commit to coaches, not schools.

I feel like the minority here, but I just can’t understand why we’re looking to mess with signing day at all. At the risk of sounding like a wanna be John Wayne harkening back to a better time, why is it too much to ask that a man sticks to his word? Because that’s what all this is really about: Accountability. If a commitment was really a commitment, we wouldn’t be talking about any of this.

I wish that when coaches offered scholarships, they’d honor them 100 percent of the time. I wish that when players accepted and shook a coach’s hand, they’d honor that every time. But that isn’t the reality, and no rule is going to solve that.