Big changes are coming for college football recruiting and not all SEC coaches are thrilled with the new rules, which created a December signing period and allow official visits five months earlier.
“It’s going to be different because of the manpower, the hours it takes (to be ready for national signing day),” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “It’s a war out there. Now, you have two of them.”
Under the old recruiting calendar, football players who didn’t graduate early and enroll in college for the spring semester weren’t permitted to sign until the first Wednesday in February of their senior year.
The fear is that the December window — which is set for Dec. 20-22, 2017, in conjunction with the junior college transfer signing period and right in the heart of bowl preparation — will become the new de facto signing day.
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“It’s obviously going to speed things up,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “We’ve got to do a tremendous job on evaluating kids earlier and more thorough at an early age.”
Two months may not seem significant, but many recruiting visits currently take place in December and January. The new timeline also provides one less semester of transcripts to evaluate a prospect’s academic standing.
“I liked the setup that we had …,” Odom said, “but we’re going to make the best of it.”
Orgeron, Alabama’s Nick Saban, Mississippi’s Hugh Freeze and South Carolina’s Will Muschamp were among the other coaches on the SEC Spring Football Teleconference who voiced concern about the new recruiting calendar.
“The sooner you have to make decisions on these guys, the greater opportunity you have to make mistakes,” said Saban, noting it’s as much about evaluating character and academic preparedness as on-field ability.
Beginning next spring, prospective football players in the 2019 recruiting class also will be able to take official visits as early as April 1 during their junior year.
Under the current rule, such visits are prohibited until the first day of classes during a prospect’s senior year.
That piece was particularly problematic for SEC coaches.
“You’re tripping kids before they’ve even had a sixth semester transcript,” Freeze said. “I wish that was not a part of it. … I’m a big fan of getting to know kids, and that’s difficult. … I want to know the kids fit with us. That’s really important to me. The way it’s been expediated because of this is a struggle to me a little bit and could cause you to be a bit reckless.”
Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason, while concerned about the academic evaluation, doesn’t mind the changes.
“It’s put in place to benefit student-athletes and it’s going to allow them to have a faster say in getting the recruiting process done and over with and really holding schools’ feet to the fire in terms of if they’ll actually commit to these student-athletes,” Mason said.
Programs who sign a lot of student-athletes in December will be able focus on a select few players for the final push toward February and ramp up earlier for the next recruiting cycle, but schools that have offered several players at a position might be forced to make earlier decisions if a prospect wants to sign in December.
“I truly believe it’s going to call some people’s bluff, both from the player side and the school side,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “It’ll be interesting to see.”
Instances where a player has committed, but continues to look for a more prestigious program that might be interested — as was the case with former Mizzou commit Jafar Armstrong from Bishop Miege, who ultimately signed in February with Notre Dame — might elect not to sign in December.
“If a guy doesn’t sign in December, you know he’s not committed,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “He’s got a reservation.”
So, who benefits?
“If I was at Central Michigan or Cincinnati, I would want an early signing day and not have maybe as many signing-day surprises,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said.
Missouri might have landed Armstrong last season with an early signing period, but the Tigers also might have missed out on several players — Damarea Crockett and Micah Wilson were both committed to Boise State until late January in 2016 and February signee Taylor Powell was originally committed to Wake Forest — in recent years.
“I don’t know if it’s a great benefit for us or not,” Odom said. “We won’t know until we go through a cycle and get a feel for it, but we’ll be aggressive with how we’re going to approach it.”