NCAA eyes early signing period

College football is taking steps toward establishing an early signing period, according to the NCAA official who manages the national letter of intent program.

Susan Peal, NCAA associate director of operations, said the continued acceleration of recruiting has led the Conference Commissioners Association to consider an earlier date to supplement the long-existing date in February, similar to the structure for basketball and other sports.

"I think everyone wants an early signing period," Peal said this week. "It's just trying to nail down what's the appropriate date for that."

The letter of intent program is governed by the CCA, a 32-member panel of Division I conference commissioners. The group will meet in June to review an agenda that includes an early signing period.

The commissioners previously considered the issue, but Peal said it has been a few years.

"I think there's more momentum now than ever just because of the changes that are happening with recruiting regulations," said Peal, who works closely with the commissioners on topics related to national letters of intent. "The landscape is changing, so it's time to look at it again."

The usage last fall of financial-aid agreements, available for January-enrolling prospects on Aug. 1 of their senior years to secure a scholarship, is among the accelerating factors. Prospects who sign financial-aid agreements and enroll early do not sign letters of intent.

Peal said the NCAA recently surveyed coaches about an early signing period. Most of the disagreement, she said, involves the actual date.

Options could include a fall date, late-summer or early-summer. No consensus exists.

Some opposition to an early period appears to remain.

"I know the [Southeastern Conference] coaches are not in favor of changing the recruiting calendar," Kentucky's Mark Stoops said in January. "If things start moving up, it changes the way we've been doing things for a long time."

Many other major-college coaches have said they would prefer an early signing period so as to avoid having to commit resources until February on recruiting prospects who commit months ahead of the current signing date.

Peal said she was unsure for which class of recruits the NCAA could implement an early signing period if conference commissioners agreed on it this year.

The introduction of an early period, Peal said, likely would coincide with NCAA legislation to allow early official visits. Currently, prospects are not allowed to make official visits until Sept. 1 of their senior years.