Ron Seibel

Additional signing periods good for early football commits

Georgia Tech defensive back A.J. Gray, left, decided early in his senior season at Washington County to play for the Yellow Jackets, but he had to wait until the following February to sign.
Georgia Tech defensive back A.J. Gray, left, decided early in his senior season at Washington County to play for the Yellow Jackets, but he had to wait until the following February to sign. AP

Change can be a long time coming in the NCAA.

For the longest time, calls have been made to adjust the recruiting schedule so high school football players don’t have to be burdened by coaches and fans during their senior seasons. Because of the single January signing period, players are opened up to pestering by coaches, belittling by rival fans and numerous questions from media, both traditional high school writers and those writers who focus on recruiting.

The wait can get ugly. Just ask anyone who changed their minds late in the process or went into National Signing Day undecided.

Granted, some student-athletes thrive under the microscope. They feed off the attention they receive. They turn National Signing Day into a spectacle.

But for those who don’t want to deal with the mess, relief might be coming.

The NCAA Division I Council proposed Wednesday to add two signing periods to the football calendar. The proposed June signing period would benefit rising seniors who already have their minds made up. The December signing period would help those who don’t want to stretch the recruiting process into the holidays, as well as junior college players wrapping up their seasons.

For those who decide early, the proposal is a great one. It gets people off their backs. If given the chance, Washington County product A.J. Gray likely would have signed with Georgia Tech early two years ago, as the Yellow Jackets were Gray’s only serious suitors early on. It wasn’t until the Golden Hawks made a playoff drive to the Georgia Dome that other teams came calling, and Gray already had shut down recruiting by then.

There is another step the NCAA needs to take when it comes to recruiting, and that has to do with the type of coaching changes that affected the recruiting process for players like Macon County product Roquan Smith, who had the coach who recruited him leave on National Signing Day.

Smith, who announced he would sign with UCLA on National Signing Day only to have news of his position coach’s departure come in before his paperwork hit the fax machine, wound up at Georgia. He was lucky. Others who file their paperwork and later have their coaches depart are stuck if the new head coach doesn’t grant a release from the letter-of-intent.

Usually, coaches will grant a release in such a situation. Some might do it with stipulations, such as not granting leave to play for a rival or another program in the same conference. But there are no guarantees.

For the sake of the incoming players, whose mobility is less than the coaches who sign them, they should be able to cancel a letter-of-intent if their head coach or position coach departs before the player arrives on campus for the first time, either in late July or early August for preseason practice or in January should they choose the grayshirt route.

Some might say this would open the door to all sorts of transfers. But limiting this proposal to incoming players keeps things reasonable. More importantly, it keeps things fair for the incoming student-athletes.

We’re seeing progress here with the NCAA. Let’s hope the next step is taken soon.

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