Sports column: Signing day has changed in a short time

Published 2:00 pm Sunday, February 6, 2022

College football’s national signing day came and went this week. It’s always been a time for fans to daydream about how the latest group of athletes will lead their team to championships and the players themselves to celebrate an accomplishment years in the making.

Locally, that was as true as ever.

Thirteen players and one team manager from Vicksburg High and Warren Central signed with Mississippi’s junior colleges on Wednesday. They hugged family members and smiled as they posed for pictures.

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On a national level, however, the vibe surrounding the traditional February signing day underwent a radical makeover.
Most of the major Division I schools signed their full complement of players in December, added transfers in January, and only had a couple of spots available in February.

Ole Miss and Mississippi State didn’t even bother to send out a press release touting their signing class. It was finished days or weeks ago. Southern Miss released an updated list that had one name added to it from six weeks ago.

NIL replaced LOI as the key acronym. Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher traded shots about paying players through name, image and likeness (NIL) deals.

Even the fax machines were silent on Wednesday. The NCAA has a new electronic system to upload and file players’ paperwork, perhaps eliminating the last practical use for that aging piece of technology.

All in all, the February signing day seemed like an afterthought in the new age of college football. Just like rich NIL deals are threatening to create an even bigger divide between the haves and have-nots of the sport, the split between the December and February signing days is creating a caste system among recruits.

Almost all of the high-ranking recruits now sign in December. The February signing day is mostly for those signing with smaller four-year schools and junior colleges.

It’s not meant as a slight to the latter group. No matter where you sign, getting an opportunity to play in college is a great honor that should not be taken lightly. But it’s also become clear that if you don’t sign with a Division I team in December you probably won’t sign with them at all. They’ll move on to the next name on their list or find someone in the transfer portal to fill the spot.

When the December signing period was introduced in 2017, its intent was to take pressure off of recruits and coaches. The recruiting process had become drawn out for many who supposedly knew where they wanted to go early on, and coaches were tired of wasting resources to keep recruiting players they thought they’d locked up. Moving up the day they could sign was supposed to end the drama.

Instead, all it seems to have done is shift it. Players still flip their commitments and play the hat game on signing day. They just get to celebrate Christmas afterward.

It’s also diminished the prestige and importance of the traditional signing day. Times change and so do traditions. It’s just not always fun or good when they do.

Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at ernest.bowker@vicksburgpost.com

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 139-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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