The Inaugural Early Signing Period Introduced a Host of New Issues

December 22nd, 2017 | by Matthew Monte
The Inaugural Early Signing Period Introduced a Host of New Issues

Early Signing Period

The inaugural early signing period for football recruiting comes to a close today, and I can say with confidence that, if it stays the way it is, it will change the game.

We already knew that the signing period falling during early bowl season would be an interesting twist, but coaches don’t seem to be having an issue juggling the two responsibilities. Some have even relished the opportunity to play in a nationally televised game so close to signing, with FAU head coach Lane Kiffin even remarking that he told recruits to “watch the next three and a half hours,” before soundly thumping the Akron Zips in the Boca Raton Bowl.

The real challenge, however, has been for schools undergoing staff changes. The last week of November and first weeks of December have traditionally been referred to a “coaching search season.” In fact, so far 19 FBS programs have had a change in head coach this year. That’s nearly 15% of the league. When you consider staff changes at the coordinator level and below, that number jumps into the 90% range.

These staff changes have had a public effect on recruiting, with a number of players switching their commitments or delaying them altogether due to their chosen program not having a head man in place as the early signing period drew near. In Kansas State’s case, legendary head coach Bill Snyder has acknowledged that he is considering retirement, but won’t announce until after his team plays in the Cactus Bowl on December 26th, obviously creating some minor uncertainty for his incoming recruiting class.

It all begs the question, what aspect of college football will change, because something must.

Coaching searches were always time sensitive, but now there is the added risk of losing an entire recruiting class because you decided to let your previous coach finish out the regular season. Will athletic directors have to start pulling the trigger sooner on their outgoing coaches? Should search firms be engaged before the original coach has been terminated?

Then there is Jeremy Pruitt and the dilemma we all wish we had. After accepting the head job at Tennessee, he got on the recruiting trail to try to make something out of this early signing period, but he is now back with his former employer and Tennessee’s traditional rival, Alabama, so that he can guide them through the playoffs as their defensive coordinator. Even without the early signing period, this tactic of one-foot-in, one-foot-out didn’t seem to work well in the past for Alabama when the previously mentioned Kiffin tried it as their offensive coordinator.

Should programs start including additional buyout penalties for assistants who leave during a bowl or playoff run? Should schools doing the hiring demand that coaches focus their full time and attention on the recruiting class they’ll actually be playing with next year?

For athletic directors, the problems with this early signing period are multiple, but do they outweigh to benefits? Programs now have the ability to sign the majority of their class, endure the inevitable surprise flips and losses, and then regroup to make a second run at positions they may have otherwise missed out on. There is no doubt that the early signing period will help teams fill in their gaps more evenly from year-to-year, but the timing couldn’t be lees ideal for programs already in flux.

About Matthew Monte
Matthew Monte is Managing Editor of College AD and formerly Co-Managing Editor of Underdog Dynasty. He is a graduate of The B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration at UL Lafayette, mostly because it didn't require a foreign language. Matt is also a recovering stand up comedian who occasionally relapses.

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