SEC coaches debate an early signing period

semerson@macon.comMay 27, 2014 

DESTIN, Fla. -- For years, the idea of an early signing period for football has been a topic on the fringes, a concept more than a possibility. And it was one the SEC, the best football conference in the country, consistently opposed.

This week, however, there is movement. It started nationally, with other major conferences declaring their preference for one. So when the SEC football coaches met for their annual meetings Tuesday, the topic was on the agenda.

How much movement, however, and whether the SEC will support an early signing period, remains murky.

Prior to the meetings, most coaches expressed support but differed on when the early signing date would be. After the meetings, LSU head coach Les Miles declared it was “unanimous” that the signing date should be the first Monday after Thanksgiving.

But South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier came out against having it at all.

“I like what we’re doing now,” Spurrier said of holding one signing day, the first Wednesday in February. “They don’t have an NFL draft before a guy’s third year. Let them play through high school, is what I think. But some schools like the early signing period. Some would sign guys after their sophomore year.”

SEC coaches have been reluctant to embrace an earlier signing day because -- while they decline to admit so publicly -- they like the idea of flipping recruits committed to other programs. But with so many players now committing early, SEC programs might benefit just as much as anybody. LSU currently has 11 commitments for next year’s class, as Miles pointed out. Georgia has eight.

Proponents of an early signing period say it would help recruits and coaches. Recruits who are set on signing would be able to officially shut down their recruitment and stop hearing from coaches hoping to flip them. Coaches would be able to concentrate on the players legitimately up for grabs and not spend time continuing to recruit players they feel confident are coming anyway.

“If a guy knows where he’s going, wants to go and he makes that decision early, then everybody can focus on who’s left,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. “You don’t have to continue to go see that kid on a weekly basis and spend the money on that kind of recruiting a guy who’s solidly committed. There’s other reasons why other divisions of football would like it, as well. (It would) kind of help them sort out where everybody’s going and have a better chance to focus on the ones that there’s a more realistic shot for them to get.”

Arkansas’ Bret Bielema called himself a “huge proponent” of an early signing period, as long as it’s in the summer.

“Here’s the deal, the early signing period in my mind allows a kid, say, from Arkansas, who wanted to be a Hog his whole life, he commits his sophomore year, junior year, and he can sign before his senior year, and then nobody recruits him, nobody can touch him,” Bielema said. “His high school coach is happy because he’s got a scholarship, doesn’t worry about him not playing.”

But what if there’s a coaching change, and a player has signed with a program back in the summer?

“I totally get it,” Bielema said. “Maybe there’s an appeals process.”

Florida’s Will Muschamp said he was in favor of the early signing period but then put on his analyst cap to doubt there could be national consensus.

“Some of the Northern schools, they don’t want an early signing date, because they want to be able to visit guys during the season,” Muschamp said. “A lot of coaches, including myself, don’t want an inordinate amount of visits during the season because it takes away from your football team and your preparation and preparation for the next week. So I really think we’re gonna have a hard time agreeing on something that’s good for everybody, just because the regions of the country.

“A lot of the Northern schools don’t want kids visiting in January because it’s freezing cold, and they lie to them and tell them it’s warm year-round.”

The coaches are set to meet again Wednesday, and it’s possible they will vote a recommendation to the athletics directors, who can also discuss it Wednesday or Thursday. At that point, the SEC would decide if it’s going to take an official position.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive pointed out Tuesday that twice before the early signing period came up on a national level, and the SEC opposed it both times.

“We opposed it, and we were vocal about opposing it,” Slive said. “Obviously if our football coaches want to recommend an early signing date and our athletic directors are comfortable with it, notwithstanding the arguments against it, then obviously the conference will take a different position.

“But we aren’t there yet.”

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