A plan designed to simplify the recruiting process for some high school seniors also has created its share of confusion.
The newly designated early national signing period for Division I college football — coming up soon, Dec. 20-22 — allows a college senior who is ready to sign with his school to go ahead and put pen to paper.
It’s a benefit in many ways because it allows that player to lock down his scholarship. It means he doesn’t have to do deal with calls from other coaches trying to lure him away at the last minute or from the media asking about his every vague post on social media.
Players who are ready to shut down their recruiting process can sign a national letter of intent — just like the ones previously signed on the first Wednesday in February — next week on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday and be done.
But Kentucky’s coaches say there have been plenty of questions about the new early signing period.
“A lot of the high school coaches were thinking if you sign early, you’re going to school early, that the early signing period is for the early enrollees” only, UK co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw said recently.
That’s not the case, though. Any player can sign Dec. 20-22 and lock in his scholarship with his school and then enroll when he is ready to do so. As always, some signees will enroll in January and others will wait.
Hinshaw isn’t the only one fielding questions from coaches, parents and recruits about the new rule.
Kentucky’s recruiting coordinator, Vince Marrow, said as he went from school to school visiting players recently, there had been concerns about when to sign and why to sign early.
“A lot of high school coaches weren’t even aware of the early signing day,” Marrow said. “It blew me away.”
Some players said they were hesitant to sign next week because they wanted to wait until February and sign with their friends at a big celebration at their school like others had done in the past, Marrow said.
The coach has had to let them know they can still do that, but the smart move is to sign the letter now and celebrate later.
Kentucky’s high school athletic association has fielded a few calls from coaches around the state about the early signing period because it’s new.
“The only thing I’ve heard from our coaches is confusion because they’re being told one thing by the NCAA coaches and another by the NAIA coaches,” KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett explained. “It’s probably just a matter of sorting it out.”
The new early signing period is only for Division I football players.
One thing the Southeastern Conference has done well during this transition has been keeping in touch with the high school governing bodies within states that also have an SEC member school and making them aware of the date changes.
“A lot of the directors, especially in the SEC states, had some concerns that the last-minute hubbub might interfere with their playoffs,” Tackett said of the December official visits and other events that might come with the new early signing period.
That wasn’t the case in Kentucky, whose high school champions were crowned the first weekend of December at Kroger Field.
“For us, it was just a matter of getting the word out,” he said. “We sent it out to our ADs and schools probably a year ago when we first got it from the SEC.”
For the most part, it’s been about education all around, Kentucky’s coaches said.
“Every kid can sign on the 20th and lock in their scholarship, be locked into going to Kentucky, be done,” Hinshaw said.
So far, Kentucky’s 2018 signing class has 21 commitments. Last week Coach Mark Stoops said this won’t be a big class for UK, “pushing it” to sign any more than 23 or 24 players total.
“Sometimes you get some very, very good players down the stretch here that it’s very difficult to say no to,” he said of the 2018 class, which is rated No. 20 nationally by Rivals.com and is the sixth-best class in the SEC behind Georgia, Auburn, LSU, Alabama and South Carolina.
The Cats have to be smart about how they finish their class. “It will be difficult making decisions and deciding which way we go on some of them,” Stoops said.
While UK anticipates getting a bulk of its signatures early — despite the confusion — players still have the option of waiting for the secondary signing period in February.
The school is planning to treat the new Dec. 20 signing day the way it did the February date previously, including a show produced in-house and a news conference.
When asked if UK planned to hold on to a handful of scholarships for February, Stoops said he was waiting to decide.
“If we’re really solid and feel very comfortable with the guys we have, we’ll close it out,” Stoops said of the 2018 class.
“This is the first time we’ve gone through this. It is different. So we’ll see. I anticipate signing a majority of the class and that’s the way we’re approaching it now. I would like to keep a couple.”
2017-18 football signing dates
Early period: Dec. 20-22
Junior-college mid-year transfer period: Dec. 20-Jan. 15
Regular period: Feb. 7-April 1
2018 UK football commitments
Pompano Beach, Fla.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Oak Park, Mich.
Deerfield Beach, Fla.