The ACC has long been in favor of an early signing period in college football, and partly due to the conference’s efforts, one could be arriving sooner than later.
The ACC coaches and athletic directors met in May and decided to move forward with a proposal for an earlier Signing Day. At the ACC Kickoff on July 20, ACC commissioner John Swofford said he took the proposal to the Conference Commissioner’s Association — the body that could pass such a measure — in June. MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher has since chaired a committee to work on the legislation, meaning the institution of an early Signing Day is in the works.
Swofford said that while the ACC has been supportive of an early signing date for several years, the measure is just now gaining momentum on a broader scale.
“We just haven’t been able to get enough other people to agree with us on it, so we keep working at it,” Swofford said. “I think we’re closer. I think we’ve made some progress. I’m encouraged.”
Swofford is unsure of when the earlier signing date would fall. That’s something that would still need to be hashed out among the conferences, but the common sentiment is that it would be somewhere in July — before the college football season begins in earnest.
An early signing period would give recruits the option to lock in their commitments before the first Tuesday of February, which currently stands as the only signing period for high school recruits. Football is the only NCAA sport without an early signing period in addition to the regular signing period.
By signing a letter of intent, a player is tied to a scholarship at that school unless he is granted a release by the university. It effectively ends his recruitment and guarantees him a scholarship the following fall, as long as he is cleared by the NCAA and admitted to the school.
An early signing period benefits both the universities and the players. For the schools, coaching staffs could save $100,000s by recruiting a smaller pool of players throughout the fall and winter. More importantly, they wouldn’t have to commit so many resources to keeping a recruit committed while other programs continue to recruit them.
The latter point is something college coaches have grown increasingly frustrated with through the past several years.
“When you have a guy who knows where he wants to be, and there’s all that nonsense of commit, decommit, commit, decommit — if a guy wants to be there, let’s get it locked in. You shouldn’t have to travel there once a week all winter long,” Boston College coach Steve Addazio said. “It’s foolish to have those kids committed, and then you’re trying to hang on from July, August, September, October, November, December, January. People are pecking away at your guys. The whole thing is distasteful.”
For recruits, it would secure them a scholarship and a spot at the school they know they want to attend. Cutting off their recruitments would allow them to eliminate the stress of making a college decision if they so desire.
Of course, there are drawbacks, too. A player could become obligated to join a program even though there’s a coaching change or potential NCAA punishments. Or, a team could be forced to extend a scholarship to a recruit who suffers a devastating injury or regresses during his senior year.
Still, the conference believes the positives of an early signing period outweigh the negatives. Swofford said one could be instituted as soon as next fall, but that depends entirely on how quickly the legislation gets passed.
Between measures such as this and the push for Power 5 autonomy, there could be many sweeping changes to the college football landscape in the coming years. An early signing period appears to be on the horizon, and the addition of one would make a significant difference immediately.
“We are, as a conference, strongly in favor of an early signing date,” Swofford said. “We’re willing to have some flexibility as to when that is, but we feel it’s something that would be healthy for the game, healthy for the institutions and healthy for the young men being recruited.”