CCA panel eyes early signing period

The Collegiate Commissioners Association has formed a committee chaired by Mid-American Conference commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher to research whether an early signing period would be a good thing for college football.

College coaches and administrators have debated for years the merits of introducing an early signing period for football, and it remains the only major college sport that doesn't give prospective student athletes an opportunity to sign early with their colleges of choice. Basketball has long used a system that allows recruits to sign in the fall and spring, easing the pressure on prospects who wish to end the recruiting process early in their senior years of high school. Football recruits can sign only in February of their senior year.

Steinbrecher said the 32-member panel of Division I conference commissioners has discussed an early signing period for football at least twice in the past five years, but this is the first time the group that operates the letter-of-intent program has taken the next exploratory step.

"While there certainly have been expressions of interest by a number of conferences, we really don't have all the pieces of information we need to make a thoughtful decision," Steinbrecher said. "It's more than just making a decision on an early signing period. What we're talking about potentially changes the recruiting calendar and the dynamics around recruiting. That could then potentially involve changing NCAA regulations.

"We need to get a better grasp of what that means in terms of the recruiting culture for football. We need to dig a little deeper, not only from a coach's perspective or an administrator's perspective, but from the prospect's perspective and from the high school's perspective. At the end of the day, we'll need to find what's best for the student athletes and what's best for our institutions and merge all of that."

Recently, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced its schools support an Aug. 1 date for an early signing period. The Southeastern Conference offered a recommendation for the Monday after Thanksgiving, and a number of Big Ten and Big 12 coaches said they would align more closely with the ACC. Then there are others like Stanford's David Shaw, who has been an outspoken critic of an early period.

While Steinbrecher isn't sure who else will be on his committee at this point, he did vow to make sure all of the key stakeholders involved in the recruiting process -- especially the prospects and high school coaches -- will be engaged in the discussion. He also said it'll be important for his group to weigh every option possible, including recommending that no changes be made to the current recruiting calendar.

"In a perfect world, we'd report back in the early fall," he said. "I don't think we're going to be able to meet that timeline. I would think we're on a three to six month kind of timeline to dig into this."

The NCAA doesn't oversee when prospects can officially sign with institutions but has indicated it would be willing to adjust rules of when a prospect could take an official visit if conference commissioners recommend an early signing period.