UGA Football

Recruiting changes worrisome for some SEC coaches

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart during National Signing Day at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart during National Signing Day at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. Georgia Sports Communications

College football recruiting is in for a major change. Some coaches are anxious to see what happens. Others simply wish no change occurred whatsoever.

College football will now have an early signing period that begins on Dec. 20 and lasts 72 hours. Prospective student-athletes who hold collegiate scholarship offers will be allowed to sign their national letters-of-intent during this timeframe if they please.

In essence, it will end the recruiting process for those who choose to do so a little over a month before National Signing Day, which occurs on the first Wednesday of every February.

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema estimated that 75 percent of his 2017 recruited class would have signed in December if given the opportunity. South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp thinks 13 or 14 of the 24-person group he inked would have signed early.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart was unsure how many of his third-ranked class would have signed early.

An early signing period may not affect the elite recruits, Smart said, whether they wait until February or not. As Smart sees it, an early signing period could change the approach for "middle-range" players who don’t hold Power 5 offers in December but could earn one just before signing day.

"What’s going to happen is that the other levels, the conferences a little bit below us, they’re going to try to lock their guys in," Smart said. "They’re the ones who get fished upon when somebody doesn’t get a kid. There’s a trickle-down effect I’m really interested in."

Smart cited the fact that Colorado State, coached by former Georgia quarterback and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, lost defensive lineman Sincere David late in the recruiting cycle to Mississippi. The reason Ole Miss went after David was because it lost a defensive line recruit of its own.

It forced Bobo’s team to find a defensive lineman late to replace David in the class. With an early signing period, Smart believes recruits like David are going to be pressured into signing letters-of-intent in December to avoid moving to Power 5 programs by the end of January.

"That doesn’t happen because that kid may have already signed," Smart said. "It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out and how it goes. I think there will be two very stressful periods for coaching staffs and recruiting staffs. It went from one really stressful period to two because you’re worried about losing some kid you’re tight with. He may sign early and then you’re out of the sweepstakes."

Most of the SEC coaches asked about an early-signing period didn’t seem too thrilled about it. Bielema, however, did acknowledge some positives that could come of it. One aspect is that players are given a little leverage by signing early.

Once a letter-of-intent is signed, an offer can’t be pulled.

"It’ll probably clean up and give more opportunities to kids that didn’t have those opportunities before, just because coaches are going to sit back in December to evaluate where their staff is and figure out what they need," Bielema said.

Muschamp, however, said he thinks the timing of the early signing period is poor. Prospective student-athletes, the elite prospects at least, are oftentimes playing for state championships while dealing with final exams in the classroom. On top of all that stress will soon be college coaches asking, or in some cases begging, them to sign early.

Muschamp believes that is a lot of pressure to put on a 17- or 18-year-old recruit.

"You’ve got guys making a huge decision in his life and (a recruit’s) about to play a state championship game," Muschamp said. "I don’t think that’s what we want. That’s the first thing I looked at."

Another issue associated with early signing is the fact that recruits can now take official visits beginning on April 1. For some head coaches, such as Muschamp, it’s a predicament since they haven’t met certain prospects in person yet.

Bielema said the timing isn’t smart because the sixth semester of a recruit’s junior year is a critical one for eligibility purposes. Prospective student-athletes aren’t allowed to re-take classes during their senior year and need to ensure they are making the grades to qualify under NCAA guidelines.

Slapping the potential for official visits on top of that could complicate the process.

"We’re telling them to get As and Bs because Cs and Ds don’t cut it. You gotta get these great grades," Bielema said. "But by the way, when you’re supposed to be prepping for the ACT and the SAT, why don’t you take a visit with mom and dad around the world five times? How smart is that?"

Citing the same concerns that others brought up, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said he preferred the rules the way they were before.

But now that the rules have changed, Malzahn and his counterparts have no choice but to adapt.

"Anytime something’s new, we’ll see how it goes," Malzahn said. "It’ll be interesting to see how it goes. I think this first year we’ll learn a lot."