Big Ten football coaches weigh in on possible early signing period

Big Ten football coaches weigh in on possible early signing period

The wheels are in motion for an early signing period in college football. You knew it was coming. The big question: What took so long?

Basketball has had two signing periods for years, one in the fall and one in the spring. Now, football looks poised to have two dates, as well, pending approval from the NCAA Board of Governors. The first Wednesday in February traditionally is signing day. But it looks like an earlier one will be coming, probably in December to coincide with when mid-year junior college transfers typically sign their letters-of-intent.

“Our conference has discussed it a lot, which has been good,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz told me. “I wish the early signing period was even earlier. But it is what it is. It’s probably a positive.”

Something that probably won’t change: poaching. Look, big schools always will feed on lesser ones. It’s the law of nature. As signing day approaches in February, big schools will flip kids verbally committed to other schools to fill out their recruiting classes. It always happens … and always will, early signing period or not.

“I worry that there may be a lot of unforeseen consequences that come with these things,” said Penn State coach James Franklin. “People may consider me a young coach, but I kind of have an old-school mentality. But I worry about the unforeseen consequences of the decisions we are making.”

Perhaps this is one of those “unforeseen consequences” Franklin is alluding to: When the early-signing period arrives in December, will the players who have verbally committed to a school actually put pen to paper and sign a letter-of-intent? Hmmmm.

If a player opts to hold off, that obviously would send a negative message to the school, which likely will drop the kid and move on. Look at it this way: The school will know where it stands with a recruit and can move on to another target.

Conversely, what if the early signing day arrives and a school opts not to sign a kid who has verbally committed and wants to sign? Interesting. I guess the kid will know where he stands with that school which earlier took his verbal but now doesn’t want his early letter-of-intent signed—basically figuring it can “do better.” Hey, it’s a cold world out there. Better get used to it, kid.

Bottom line: There will be some drama played out during that early signing period that could leave some schools and recruits red-faced and/or upset.

Another possible unforseen consequence: What happens when a kid signs early with a school … and that school has coaching staff changes in late December and January? Yes, in theory, a recruit signs with a school. But in reality, a recruit has forged relationships with staff members that galvanized his commitment and signature.

“I liked when they were talking about a June, December and February signing period,” said Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst. “Now you have too many offers being extended, some commitments are real and some aren’t. If you have a real offer and a kid wants to sign in June and he won’t take it, then it’s not a real offer. Same with December and same with February. I like the new December date, but I liked the earlier proposal with three signing days.”

With an early signing period on the horizon, early official visits also are coming. And, that’s a good thing. Why would a recruit commit and sign a letter-of-intent without officially visiting a school? Yes, kids can take unofficial visits in the summer, but they must foot the bill. Not all families can afford that. Now, a recruit can take a paid/official visit in the summer.

“I like the system we had,” said Franklin. “But I did think there was a place for early visits. People didn’t want to add an early signing period without early visits. I get it.”

A big benefit to an early signing period for schools will be to have X number of players already “in the bank,” so to speak. Signed, sealed and delivered. Coaches won’t have to keep recruiting them through January and can instead focus on wooing still unsigned players.

But know this: Many high-profile recruits still will wait until signing day to announce their intentions. Hey, some kids just love being pursued and wooed. And the look-at-me attention is addicting.

“We will learn as we go along,” said Ferentz. “No one can predict the impact it will have until we go through a cycle or two. It’s encouraging because it’s change and we all can agree that we need change. The model we are using now has gotten really antiquated.”

Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.