Early signing period needed in college football

Published 11:01 am Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fax machines at college football offices all over the country have whirred for the final time.

The final hat or other prop showing the college destination of the five-star, can’t-miss Youtube sensation has been used. The last letter of intent has been signed, save a few holdouts.

National signing day, a holiday for college football fans, is finally over, but yet the real process of player development is just beginning.

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Some recruits drag out their decision, changing their minds 10 or 11 times. Some just want to take fun visits to different schools even when they’ve made their decision. They’re 18-year-olds, after all.

But what about those who don’t, like Warren Central punter/kicker Devon Bell, who remained loyal to the first school that offered him, Mississippi State, throughout the process?

An early signing period during the summer would be a perfect remedy and it might cut down on a lot of the drama and the hype for many recruits.

Speaking of drama, things have ramped up to insane levels, necessitating an early signing period.

College football recruiting has morphed into an all-consuming amoeba, fed by the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle. Once upon a time, coaches evaluated and recruited in a vacuum, able to find an unearthed gem without so much as a peep to the outside world. Fans were content to find out their haul at the end of the process.

Not anymore. Thanks to fan interest, recruiting became more than a offseason holdover until spring football. First there were 1-900 numbers giving information on recruits. That got expensive quickly. Then the Internet with a trio of recruiting websites — Rivals.com, Scout.com and now, 247sports.com — made recruiting into a national obsession.

The three sites gave us a new lexicon: the soft verbal commitment. The hard verbal. The unofficial visit. The official visit. We got links to YouTube highlight videos, the recruit’s 40-yard dash time and how much he squatted and bench-pressed.

News conferences are held to announce a recruit’s destination, something that gives 18-year-olds a level of attention they’re probably not prepared to handle.

It’s easy to get sucked into this hype machine that leaves nothing but carnage in its wake.

But what about the guys who already have made up their minds? Since the process is so involved and they get five official visits each, why not visit Next State U. for a fun, free outing even though your heart is set on State U? The process forces coaching staffs to try to retain their own commits and gives them the opportunity to try to poach a few from the rivals. It also forces schools to waste precious recruiting dollars on visits for players who won’t sign there.

An early signing period would end that and allow recruits, like Bell, who aren’t going anywhere else, to avoid getting texts and calls from other coaching staffs.

It’s a situation where anything that limits the madness is a good thing.

Steve Wilson is sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. You can follow him on Twitter at vpsportseditor. He can be reached at 601-636-4545, ext. 142 or at swilson@vicksburgpost.com.