College football needs to break a date.
February’s national signing date has become as outdated as leather headgear.
Coaches are now offering scholarships faster than ever. They’re offering them to juniors, sophomores and even freshmen.
And recruits are committing just as fast. They’re also changing their commitments faster than ever.
The process is in keeping with the up-tempo, fast-break offenses which dominate today’s game.
But in recruiting, it’s hurry up and wait — till February.
No matter how dearly a college wants a player to sign or how committed a player might be to a particular school, they can’t seal the deal until February.
It makes no sense. And it can make both the school and the recruits look bad.
High school coaches in Dillon, S.C., criticized Tennessee coaches this past week for not honoring their scholarship offer to running back Jabo Lee. They said UT coaches discovered in May that Lee would need knee surgery.
There also were questions about whether Lee could qualify academically.
Tennessee, which had no comment on the subject, released Lee from his national letter of intent. He finally met his standardized-test requirement in June and now plans to attend Temple on a football scholarship.
Recruiting breakups often leave schools on the losing end. Mississippi State fans were reminded of that last week when linebacker Keith Holcombe committed to Alabama, just 11 days after he committed to the Bulldogs.
He won’t be the last recruit to change his mind between now and February. Some will change their minds more than once.
But what if there were no signing date? Suppose a player could sign with a school whenever it offered him a scholarship. That would be so much simpler than the current setup.
Both parties would have to be made accountable, of course.
If a player decided before his senior year to sign, he wouldn’t be allowed to switch to another school six months later without being penalized. Instead, he would have to be treated like a transfer and required to sit out a year.
Schools would have to be obligated, too. If they signed a player early, that would count against their scholarship allotment even if the player didn’t qualify academically or if he suffered a career-ending injury.
Recruiting would become less flippant on both sides.
Coaches wouldn’t be as likely to offer scholarships to high school underclassmen, no matter how dazzling a player might have been at a summer camp. And commitments would become irrelevant.
If a player were committed to a school, he could sign. Game over.
Coaches then could
move on to the next recruit without having to baby-sit an early commitment all the way to February.
My sign-anytime proposal would come with only one restriction: A recruit couldn’t sign during an on-campus visit — for obvious reasons.
Imagine how much redder the red carpet would be if schools knew they could sign a recruit when he visited their campus. And imagine how much more creative and persuasive programs would become in their efforts to consummate a sale. Some might hire hypnotists.
So recruits would need time to clear their heads after visiting a campus. But they wouldn’t need to wait till February.