SEC coaches vote against early signing period

DESTIN, Fla. -- What if quarterback Anthony Morelli had gone to Pittsburgh instead of Penn State?
What if quarterback Ryan Perrilloux had signed with Texas instead of LSU? What if Chris Simms had played for Tennessee instead of the Longhorns?

If college football had an early signing period, like college basketball does in the fall, then fewer college football coaches would be burned by national signing day reversals. And the aforementioned players might have signed national letters of intent with their original college choices in the fall, rather than having a change of heart in February.

More and more, high school football players are de-commiting and making last-minute reversals. In February, more than 100 high school prospects reversed course and chose different schools.

Yet a proposed early signing period for college football was met with much resistance this week by SEC coaches at the league's annual spring meetings at the Sandestin Resort in Florida. The league's 12 football coaches discussed the idea during meetings Wednesday with league officials, then nixed the proposal by a 9-3 vote.

The proposed early signing period, which was endorsed by coaches from the ACC and Big 12 and shot down by coaches from the Pac-10, would probably take place in December. It would be similar to the early signing period currently used by men's and women's college basketball. The December signing period would be followed by the traditional signing date, the first Wednesday in February.

"I'm against it right now because I've got a feeling if we'd have an early signing period, everyone would be pushing for earlier official visits," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I'm just wondering when high school students and coaches are going to have downtime. Are we going to spend all summer having official visits?"

Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said he understands the value of having an early signing period. Since the Volunteers recruit nationally, it would reduce the travel costs associated with its coaches flying across the country to visit committed prospects late in the recruiting period.
"In those last two weeks, there's a lot of baby-sitting going on," Fulmer said. "If I'm not there, somebody else might be there."

But Fulmer said schools located in fertile recruiting grounds -- such as teams in California, Florida and Texas -- would have a recruiting advantage because top players could visit campus any time on unofficial visits.

"I'm not sure it would benefit schools like Tennessee because our recruiting base is not necessarily the best," Fulmer said.

Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis became a proponent of the early signing period when the Fighting Irish lost two highly regarded prospects during the final days of the recruiting period. Defensive lineman Chris Little switched from Notre Dame to Georgia and wide receiver Greg Little went to North Carolina.

Florida added four blue-chippers to its recruiting class that had pledged to play elsewhere. Quarterback John Brantley (from Texas), linebacker Justin Trattou (from Notre Dame), defensive back Jerimy Finch (from Indiana) and offensive lineman James Wilson (from Southern Cal) each signed with the Gators after pledging elsewhere.

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson and Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said they were in favor of an early signing period (LSU coach Les Miles also voted in favor of it) because it would reduce the time they'd have to spend making sure committed prospects stay committed.

"It doesn't hurt basketball," Johnson said. "I think it would take a lot of pressure off everybody. If he hasn't made up his mind, then don't sign. If he is ready to sign, then sign. It's pretty straight forward to me."

Florida coach Urban Meyer voiced concerns about the early signing period because it would reduce the time he would have to get to know a recruit.

"Everybody wants to speed this thing up," Meyer said. "I'd rather have it happen later. I want to quit making mistakes. I think making a mistake in recruiting devastates a program."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.