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Posted: Wednesday January 14, 2009 3:38PM; Updated: Wednesday January 14, 2009 3:57PM
Andy Staples Andy Staples >

Proposal for an early signing period is a step in the right direction

Story Highlights

Conference commissioners will discuss the AFCA's early signing period proposal

The AFCA's plan isn't perfect, but it's a positive step and most coaches support it

How would this have affected the 2009 recruiting class if it were in place now?

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An early signing period could have prevented the drama that unfolded recently between South Carolina and a recuit.
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The American Football Coaches Association has forwarded a proposal for an early signing period to conference commissioners, who are expected to review the plan Thursday. Given the overwhelming support for a December signing day from coaches -- 73 percent of Bowl Subdivision head coaches and 82 percent of Championship Subdivision head coaches back the plan, according to a USA Today story -- it seems likely the commissioners will seriously consider implementing the proposal for a three-year trial period that would begin this year.

Coaches who support the early signing period contend their staffs waste time and money playing defense with committed players getting bombarded by other schools. The coaches who oppose the plan -- and they have dwindled in the past two or three years -- believe they already have too little opportunity to build a relationship with players before offering a scholarship. An early signing period, they argue, would only further accelerate the process.

Since neither the NCAA nor the AFCA will consider my proposal to eliminate signing day entirely and allow schools to sign players whenever they want, I find myself grudgingly agreeing with the coaches who support the early signing period. Certainly, a signing day on the third Wednesday in December will create its own set of issues. For example, what would Boston College have done with its signees after firing Coach Jeff Jagodzinski nearly two weeks after signing day? But the coaching turnover issue wouldn't cause as many problems as it does in basketball, where prospects sign in November knowing full well their coach could get fired in March. In football, most firings take place the first two weeks of December.

What an early signing period would do is help recruits such as Tucker (Ga.) High linebacker Jonathan Davis and programs such as South Carolina. Davis and South Carolina's staff each find themselves in awkward positions thanks to an equally awkward recruitment. Davis, a 5-foot-8, 195-pound tackling machine who probably will play strong safety in college, thought he had a scholarship offer from the Gamecocks. Davis committed to South Carolina assistant Ron Cooper on Dec. 12. Last week, Cooper left for LSU. Later in the week, a South Carolina coach contacted Davis and told him the Gamecocks had no scholarship for him. Now, three weeks before signing day, Davis is scrambling to find a scholarship. He visited Alabama-Birmingham last weekend, and Tucker coach Franklin Stephens said Central Florida also has expressed interest.

South Carolina coaches, meanwhile, are getting blasted in the media and by a respected high school coach for what appears to be a case of interoffice miscommunication. Stephens has banned South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and his staff from recruiting players from his program, which won the Georgia Class AAAA state title this past season. NCAA rules forbid coaches from publicly discussing prospects, so Gamecocks coaches can't tell their side of the story. Two sources with knowledge of the situation said Wednesday that Cooper was told last month the Gamecocks did not have room for Davis, and that he should not offer Davis a scholarship. Cooper offered anyway, and after he left for LSU, a South Carolina assistant had to break the bad news to Davis and face Stephens' wrath.

With an early signing period, this mess could have been avoided. If South Carolina coaches didn't have room for Davis, they would have had to notify him before signing day. In this case, Davis would have learned all the facts within five days of his commitment, and he would have had almost two months to seek another scholarship. South Carolina, meanwhile, wouldn't get painted as the villain because the ordeal would have played out so quickly it wouldn't have appeared Davis had been strung along.

The AFCA's plan isn't perfect, but it's a step in the right direction. Anything that gives 17- and 18-year old young men a measure of security and allows coaches to move on to undecided players and future classes is better than the system currently in place.

What if?

Since we're discussing an early signing day, let's take a look at how the plan might affect the class of 2009. Three of the top four players in the SI/Takkle Top 200 would already be signed, sealed and delivered to their chosen school. Houston Cypress Ridge quarterback Russell Shepard (LSU), Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei quarterback Matt Barkley (USC) and Austin (Texas) Lake Travis quarterback Garrett Gilbert (Texas), who committed to their schools months ago, almost certainly would have signed in December. The third-ranked player, Pensacola (Fla.) Escambia tailback Trent Richardson, might have signed with Alabama, but Richardson is still considering Florida and LSU, so he probably would have waited until February.

Looking deeper into the rankings, 18 of the top 30 seemed so resolved in their previously stated commitments by this past December that it seems safe to assume they also would have signed with their chosen schools. At the top of the rankings, the numbers tend to skew toward the uncommitted because the best players have so many options. Most likely, an even higher percentage of less recruited players -- the two- and three-star players, according to -- would already have chosen a school by mid-December.

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