We knew it was coming, but on Monday it was made official as the Collegiate Commissioners Association announced that they had voted to enact an early signing period in college football.
This year, the three-day period will take place December 20-22 and coincide with the first three days of the junior college signing period. It will join the current signing period that begins the first Wednesday of February.
An early signing period has been discussed for years now, and was thought to be coming prior to a vote in 2015. In the past year, there were even two early signing periods discussed, with one in June and one in December. The June proposal never got too far off the ground, which Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer was glad to see.
Meyer has been critical of an early signing period in the summer because he has long been a proponent of wanting to see a prospect play his senior season and evaluate him more completely during the recruiting process.
This past signing day, he spoke about an early signing period without even being prompted.
“The NCAA’s done an excellent job with the dead period during Christmas,” he said. “And I very much appreciate that. And then final thought on that is also the early signing period, why would you do that? I’m not a fan of that. You’re moving it just forward and forward. What if a kid wants to change his mind? He wants to change his mind because of coaching changes or other circumstances, the player should be allowed to change his mind.
“Once again, take it out of the minds of a 50-year-old and put it in the minds of a 16- or 17-year-old. I don’t want to speak for Gene Smith, but I speak for our coaching staff — we feel very strongly about strong regulation and keeping the recruiting calendar as is.”
While Meyer talks about how this could hurt the players by locking them into an unforeseen situation, there is also a selfish aspect to it, which is shared by most head coaches at prominent programs.
An early signing period could take away some of those prospects who don’t get offered until their senior seasons are over. At Ohio State, that could mean the in-state late bloomers that the staff wants to see play a senior season.
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, this December timeline will still allow later evaluations because in Ohio the playoffs are generally over early in the month. Even for players who are playing in the title game, they will still have upwards of three weeks to make visits if they are offered.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t still issues for Ohio State, however.
At some point, there will be an in-state player that the Buckeyes would have offered who will choose to sign with somebody early rather than waiting for an OSU offer.
Two of those guys could have been current Ohio State defensive tackles Robert Landers and Davon Hamilton, who were both offered after their senior seasons in 2015.
Landers was committed to West Virginia prior to earning an OSU offer. Last year when these proposals were being talked about, I asked him if he would have signed early with West Virginia if given an opportunity.
“No,” he told me. “I would just say that since my game continued to excel, you never know what’s going to come your way, what blessings God will give you. That’s one thing my grandfather taught me growing up. A lot of times if you get one blessing and you take advantage of it and run with it, you’ll get a couple more, if you utilize it the right way. That’s what I did.”
Landers bet on himself and won. How many prospects will do the same?
Does this then put pressure on Ohio State to offer in-state players earlier? This has been a sticky subject with Meyer because he knows he can hand out offers to out-of-state kids and be a little non-committal with them because they are just as non-committal to OSU, but you can’t get away with that too much in-state. In other words, if you’re going to offer an Ohio kid, be prepared for him to commit.
Meyer and his staff have spoken openly about how Ohio produces a large number of late bloomers compared to other football hotbeds due to a lack of spring football. Kids in Florida, Texas, California, and the like are able to get better due to spring practice throughout their high school football careers. In Ohio, the improvement happens during fall camp and the games. It just takes longer that way.
Another aspect to this — which may or may not impact OSU, but will be cringe-inducing wherever it does happen — is that players who are verbally committed to schools will find out just how much their schools are committed to them. What happens if they want to sign early, but the school won’t send them a National Letter of Intent?
The recruiting calendar has just grown by two significant dates. The first is December 20, which is the first day that prospects can sign. The second date is December 21, which is when the players who didn’t get Letters of Intent will begin decommitting.
Hooray for chaos!
There is also the not-so-small issue with schools like Ohio State losing players to the NFL, and sometimes unexpectedly. The date in which players have to declare for the NFL Draft comes nearly four weeks after the December signing period.
Remember when Noah Brown turned pro after the season and the Buckeyes went scrambling for a receiver in the 2017 class? Now imagine how far down the line they would have had to go to find a receiver if there was an early signing period. They eventually signed Ellijah Gardiner, who was committed to Missouri. But what if he had signed with Mizzou in December?
How far and hard do they look before they simply bank that scholarship or apply it to a different position? Or do they sign somebody they don’t really think can play at Ohio State? Scholarships are too valuable to simply be given out of desperation, right?
Nobody is going to feel badly for schools like Ohio State or Alabama here, nor should they. They’re still going to get players they want, and they’ll still miss out on some others. That’s the way it’s always been.
The early signing period is going to create some chaos in that there will be all kinds of information being fed to players, most of it even true.
In the end, it gives players more options, which is good. But there are also guaranteed to be players who sign early, only to see the coach they signed with leave for another program. This is going to happen. Make friends with it.
And also make friends with the idea that this is going to negatively impact Ohio State, but not enough to really make you notice.
At least not until the 3-star Ohio kid that signed early with Louisville is an All-American as a sophomore at a position of need for the Buckeyes.
Until then, don’t get too worked up about the new rules. Ohio State will find a way to manage.