In between counting its $455 million bounty at last week's $EC meetings in Destin, Fla., the Southeastern Conference rebuffed the lobbying efforts of Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops and announced that the league remains opposed to an early signing date for football recruiting.
After a year in which UK's Stoops saw nine high school players de-commit — six in the two weeks leading up to signing day — it is easy to understand why the Kentucky head man is intent on altering the status quo.
Yet Stoops told the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald that he was "one of the few" in the SEC who favors adding an early signing date to the traditional college football signing period that begins on the first Wednesday in February.
That is just as well.
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An early signing date is too small an idea to truly alter the nature of football recruiting. If the powers that be in the sport really want to remove some of the most unappealing aspects of the modern recruiting game, they need to scrap the whole idea of a signing day or a short signing period.
Instead, they should implement a system — advocated by coaches such as Paul Johnson (Georgia Tech), Rich Rodriguez (Arizona) and Bo Pelini (formerly Nebraska, now Youngstown State) — in which football prospects can sign letters of intent with the university of their choice at any point during their senior year of high school.
If done correctly, this approach could make college football recruiting more transparent and fairer for all stakeholders in the process.
It would be better for the coaches.
Under an extended signing period, if a high school senior is ready to choose a college, they sign on the spot. If a senior player is not willing to sign, they're not committed regardless of what they might say.
That would mean no more "soft commits" and de-committing among senior prospects. No more of "I'm committed, but I'm still going to take visits to other schools." That is the recruiting equivalent of "sure, honey, we're engaged, but I'm still going to date other people."
All that stuff must drive the coaches batty.
Under a system of extended signing, it goes away.
It would be better for the players, too.
Under this plan, once a player received a written scholarship offer from a school as a senior, it is official. No more of the lousy practice of colleges "slow-playing" teenagers by "offering" yet telling the player it is not a "committable offer" while the university waits to see if it can do better.
This would all be black and white. If a college coach tells a high school senior that their school wants him, the player can gauge if that's true by whether or not the scholarship papers are then produced.
That would prevent unfortunate situations like the one right before signing day this year with Louisville's Bobby Petrino and South Carolina high school running back Matt Colburn. Colburn had been committed to Louisville for some eight months only to be told just before his pledge would become binding that he would not have a scholarship for the fall semester at U of L.
Under an extended signing system, that could not happen. Colburn would have either 1.) already signed a letter of intent with U of L; 2.) known not to shut down his recruiting since Louisville had not produced a written scholarship offer for him to ink.
Now, for an extended signing period to work, an escape clause for players who choose schools where the coach who recruited them leaves before the recruit enrolls in college must be included.
The 2015 recruiting season featured a distressing number of assistants who left their schools immediately after national signing day. That meant the players those coaches signed were stuck while the adults skipped town without consequence.
If recruits had their entire senior years to sign, that unsavory scenario would almost certainly play out even more often.
That is why the players must have an exit ramp.
My proposal: If the head coach, a coordinator (either offense or defense) or the assistant who primarily recruited a prospect leaves a university before the player has enrolled, then the prospect would have the right to opt out of their letter of intent without restriction.
With that provision included, it is extended signing — not early signing — that can alter college football recruiting dramatically for the better.