The overhauled NCAA recruiting calendar and its new December signing period promise to significantly effect the SEC and the rest of college football in 2017. As proposed, prospects would have the option to sign from Dec. 20-22 instead of waiting for February.
The changes are so major, in fact, that not even coaches know what to expect, and the uncertainty makes it difficult to project how the early signing period will play out.
Based on what several SEC coaches said Monday during the spring football teleconference, however, we can draw a few conclusions.
- Most SEC coaches like the early signing period, but they don’t like changing the recruiting calendar. Why? That forces teams to speed up their player evaluations. Some coaches also believe they would have less time to build relationships with their targets. That would certainly be the case for the 2018 recruiting class. An early signing period, however, could allow coaches to get a head start on future classes. So while December and January would’ve been spent mostly on that February’s signing class in previous recruiting cycles, now programs can dive right into the 2019 and 2020 classes during those months.
- Most schools will probably pressure recruits to sign in December rather than wait until February. More than one SEC coach said prospects who delay their signing merely have a “reservation,” not a full commitment to the school. “I truly think it’ll call some people’s bluffs,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said.
- Early December will be nuts. Players on top high school teams could be in the middle of deep playoff runs. They will also be studying for finals as they wrap up the fall semester. Coaching changes will be taking place, while other programs will be preparing for the College Football Playoff or New Year’s Six bowl games. “It’s a time when we’re not used to having that much intensity in recruiting,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.
- Recruits will continue to make commitments earlier and earlier. This could potentially hurt “late bloomers” who don’t emerge as SEC prospects until their senior years.
- Late spring and summer, a relatively slow time for football coaches, suddenly become much busier as schools can now welcome official visits in April, May and June. This opens the door for, say, a West Coast 5-star to take an all-expenses-paid trip to Alabama in the spring, whereas before he would have had to wait until September. It also allows a 5-star Alabama recruit to visit Michigan for free. That could create an interesting dynamic. (Schools cannot cover the costs associated with unofficial visits.)
The major caveat underlying every coach’s opinion, however, was this: None of them can predict all of the effects these changes might have. There could be unintended consequences that nobody sees coming. But, at least for now, these are the breaks and programs will have to adjust; the payoff could be huge for coaches who adapt the best.
Knowing that, here are thoughts from 12 SEC coaches about college football’s new recruiting rules.
Nick Saban, Alabama
“Evaluation is important. The sooner you have to make decisions on these guys, the greater opportunity you have to make mistakes. We’re trying to make sure we accelerate [the recruiting calendar] and do a great job in the evaluation process. I still think the summer, June is going to be a real important time for some of these guys. A lot of guys committing earlier and earlier. I’m sure the biggest fear with having an early signing day is that it would become the signing day, accelerate recruiting and make more guys take visits during the season. These things will probably be true. I don’t know that all those things are good things. I don’t know that accelerating the calendar, letting guys visit in the spring is all that good either.”
Ed Orgeron, LSU
“It’s going to be different obviously because of the manpower, the hours it takes for signing day. It’s a war out there. Now you have two of them. A lot of teams are going to be practicing for some very important bowls. So you’re going to have to balance your time between signing day and practice/preparation. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s something that’s coming forward. So we’re going to have to compete to be the best at it, and I’m sure we’re going to do a good job of it.”
Kirby Smart, Georgia
“I’m very interested to see how this plays out. We’re dealing in a world we haven’t dealt in. When you have that, there’s usually things you haven’t thought of. Repercussions you haven’t thought of. It’ll be interesting to see who handles it best. You’re going to have some kids who want to sign early. You’re going to have others that don’t. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on kids not to sign from other schools, to wait and see what becomes available. In basketball, you only have a few signees a year. When you’re dealing in the 20s, or a high number of signees, it’s musical chairs sometimes.
“The biggest complication is you’re going to have guys having to make an intense decision possibly during a playoff run. With academics, finals are around that time. There’s going to be a lot of different pressures. There’s going to be a lot of pressure from the school they’re supposed to go to … It’s a time when we’re not used to having that much intensity in recruiting.”
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
“It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out. One of the big things we need to look at is if a majority of kids are signing Dec. 15, that’s really going to affect how we do things in the future. Because that’s really going to become the signing day, more than an early signing day. It’s going to be interesting how the whole things shake out. Are prospects going to take more visits in-season or early December? Or are guys going to let the whole recruiting process play out and the early signing day be what it was designed for, which is for guys who know where they’re going to school?”
Jim McElwain, Florida
“There are guys that know where they’re going to go and want to go. The early signing period, it lets them get it off their plate. They don’t have to listen to all the stuff being slung around as it goes all the way to February. I think it’ll alleviate a lot of that stuff. It’ll really narrow the focus going into the February signing. You’ll know, ‘These are definitely the targets.’ I truly think it’ll call some people’s bluffs, both from the player side and the school side.”
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
“If a guy doesn’t sign in December, you know he’s not committed. He’s got a reservation. It’s got potential to really help everybody as a cost-cutting measure. By that time, our guys have usually committed. We’re not down to the wire except for a couple, maybe three guys. We spend the month of January basically spending money to see a guy every week. So I don’t know. If he doesn’t sign then, that clears the picture up. He’s not really committed to you.”
Will Muschamp, South Carolina
“I wish we had not changed anything in the recruiting calendar. I liked the recruiting calendar the way it was. But you’ve got to adjust to what we’re going to do. I don’t have any issue with it. It does help you with young men who are going to come to South Carolina no matter what, if they want to go ahead and get [signing] out of the way. A mid-year guy has the opportunity to have a signing day, so to speak.
“You find out in December if a guy’s committed to you. Because if he’s not signing in December, you better re-think your numbers at the position or continue to recruit, because you’re not really sure if he’s going to sign with you in February.”
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
“It’s put in place to benefit student-athletes. It’s going to allow them to have a faster say getting the recruiting process done and over with. And really holding schools’ feet to the fire in terms of whether or not they’re actually committed to the student-athletes. For schools like Vanderbilt, it’s pros and cons. What’s good about it is you get a chance to figure out who’s in and who’s out. The tough thing is, I’m really just going off six [high school] semesters, versus seven semesters and having a better idea of where they stand academically.”
Barry Odom, Missouri
“I liked the setup we had. I understand why the changes were made. I don’t want to sit around and make excuses. That’s what it is now and we’re going to make the best of it. What we have done, I can see some benefit. I really like the part of the early signing period. I think there’s some benefit for that. I’m not overly excited about the early official visit periods because of all the things that have probably been mentioned around the country — just the effect it has on kids going into their senior year, the academic schedule that they have. We’re going to do a great job knowing where we are on certain kids, if they’re really committed or if it’s a reservation. You’re going to find out a little quicker.”
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
“I’m in favor of the early signing period. I think it’ll allow you to know exactly where you stand quicker with players. They will know where schools stand with them quicker. I think that could be beneficial for us. I’m not a fan of the early visits. I think you’re tripping kids before they’ve even had a sixth semester transcript. I wish that was not a part of it. I am OK with the early signing period. Originally my vote would’ve been to not change anything. But once it sounded like that’s the path we’re headed down regardless, signing in December is the best scenario.
“I want to know kids fit with us. That’s really important to me. The way it’s been expedited because of this is troubling to me a little bit. It could cause you to be a bit reckless. How fast are we really going to try to move? Are we going to lean toward making sure it’s the right fit?”
Mark Stoops, Kentucky
“There’s good and bad. If you look through the years, it certainly could’ve benefited us in certain ways. I think it’s good just as far as the early signing period, having that ability. As far as changing the calendar, when you package it together, I don’t think I was totally in favor of that. But you have to make do with the rules that were given to you.”
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
“I was fine with the way it was. Any time they do make a change, there’s always a learning curve that goes with it. I can probably answer that question better a year from now.”