The SEC is not interested in change. And why would it be, after winning seven of the last eight on-field national championships and seven of the last eight Rivals.com recruiting national championships?
But with the ACC pushing for an early Signing Day, the SEC decided to be proactive this week and announced that should there be an early Signing Day, the Monday following Thanksgiving would be best.
An early Signing Day in college football would be one step in the right direction to help a process that has become overgrown in recent years, but it is not enough. Here are three changes that need to be made across the recruiting landscape that will make the entire process more efficient and fair for the prospects, coaches and schools.
Have an early Signing Day
Anyone who knows me knows that I've felt there has been a need for an early signing period since around 2004 when college football recruiting exploded with the immense growth of Rivals.com and the coverage of the process. Since that time, more and more prospects are committing early, waiting until their season is over and then taking official visits. The word "de-commit" has become as well known in recruiting circles as "verbal" and "official visit". More and more recruits are under more and more pressure from college coaches to "flip" (another word that has become commonplace in recruiting circles) and the process has become difficult to manage. More top prospects are changing their phone numbers, avoiding calls from everyone -- including college coaches -- and are having a difficult time navigating through all the muck. What should be a fun process has become very stressful for those who haven't decided early and a change is needed.
The early Signing Day needs to be prior to the prospect's senior season. The ACC has proposed Aug. 1, and I would propose Aug. 15, but the theory is the same. The early date will allow prospects willing and committed to sign and focus on their senior year, to avoid the weekly phone calls and visits from other schools and simply shut down the process. Waiting until late November (as the SEC suggests) still exposes prospects who are 100 pecent committed to constant calls, visits, Twitter DMs and Facebook messages while they try to focus on their team and studies. I would estimate around 80 percent of the current commitments would be willing to sign in August, and if they aren't, colleges know exactly where they stand with these verbal "commitments".
With the earlier Signing Day, prospects would not be able to take 'official' visits (paid for by the school), since those are not permitted until the prospect's senior year. However, so many prospects have the ability to take unofficial visits with the help of families, friends and coaches, there is no need to modify that rule. If a prospect is committed but wants to take official visits, he can skip the early Signing Day.
But buyer beware -- the school you committed to might start looking around as well for a player at your position. The two-way street created by an August signing date is fair to both sides and will dramatically decrease wasted official visits and de-commitments. It also gives colleges ample time to find a Plan B rather than scrambling in December and January when starting a relationship with a senior is about four years too late.
Get those offers in writing
Prospects are not allowed to receive scholarship offers in writing until the August prior to their senior year of high school. The NCAA made a huge mistake when they pushed back this date from Sept. 1 of the prospect's junior year. When this change occurred, college coaches started to hand out "verbal offers" like politicians hand out compliments to potential financial supporters. The validity of each has similar value. Many college coaches are now throwing out offers just to stay in the game with a prospect who is starting to blow up, whether they want him right now or not. They can always back out of a verbal offer using academics or some other excuse. Simply put, a verbal offer is as binding as the paper it's written on.
Coaches should be allowed to put offers in writing as of Sept. 1 of a prospect's freshman year. This will slow things down considerably. If a current 2018 prospect gets a verbal offer now (we have seven of them already and counting and one already committed), but his mailbox doesn't have a written offer in it on Sept. 1, then he will know the offer is worthless. I want the proof put back in the offer pudding.
This will at the very least slow down the number of offers prospects "think" they are getting early and will hold the schools accountable. Sure, college coaches can still wiggle out of written offers, but the PR nightmare that comes with that is much worse than backing off a vague verbal offer. We would see less early written offers, which means you'll see the number of early commitments slow down a bit. And even if it doesn't, the process will at least be a little more cut and dry and a lot less confusing for prospects and families.
Cut official visits to three
The number of official visits should be limited to three instead of five. In my experience, five official visits only adds pressure to a situation and most prospects have three or less schools "out of range" that they'd like to visit. They can still take additional unofficial visits to schools close to home, but dropping down to three visits will reduce the number of insincere official visits and also make the decision process easier for the prospects and their families. I've dealt with many players who get more confusion than clarity after five official visits than I have those who felt the five officials were really necessary. Of course the kids want the free trips, but after the third the burnout rate increases dramatically and I honestly feel the last two visits are usually more of a grind than a pleasure for the most part.
All the drama fans love to track will still be available, prospects can look around all the want and they can still get all-expenses-paid trips to schools. This would just make those trips more impactful, save schools some money and allow coaching staffs to focus on fewer players that they are hosting.
These three proposals can help clean up the mess. The most impactful would be the early Signing Day. The poaching of committed recruits in December, January and into the first Wednesday of February (the current Signing Day) would be dramatically reduced. The senseless need for college coaches to waste their time traveling to recruit prospects that are essentially solid commitments would be eliminated and prospects could avoid the constant pestering by coaches from late November to the current LOI date. And what about official visits taken by committed prospects for "fun"? Those would be eliminated as well, perhaps one of the biggest advantages of the new date.
The first Wednesday in February would undoubtedly remain the bigger of the two Signing Days, and the biggest recruits can still milk the moment for all its worth with televised press conferences and dramatic announcements. That part of the process will likely never change. Which is just fine with the SEC.