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Early football signing period could ease 'circus'

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The anticipation finally was relieved for numerous college football fans and coaches when Robert Nkemdiche of Loganville, Ga., announced Feb. 6 that he had chosen to play for the University of Mississippi.

Could there have been a better way for ESPNU to kick off nearly 12 hours of signing day coverage than to have the consensus No. 1 recruit in the country make his selection before a national TV audience?

Maybe next year’s top recruit will get the opportunity to request that his favorite pop singer begin the day’s festivities by performing the national anthem, or that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus stop by for a few tricks.

A simple search on recruiting websites reveals evidence of the passion of college football fans, but why does the celebration of a prospect feel so much more like the selling of a product?

Of the 15 central Ohio players who signed with BCS schools Feb. 6, 11 made their verbal commitments well before the 2012 season began.

Three of those players – Marion-Franklin’s Jaron Dukes, Pickerington North’s Jake Butt and Pickerington Central’s Taco Charlton – visited Michigan during the same weekend in February 2012 and committed before the end of that month.

Hartley tight end Jacob Matuska was sure enough about where he wanted to attend that he committed to Notre Dame last March.

Although the signing period for football doesn’t start until the first Wednesday in February, Butt and Charlton already are enrolled at Michigan and the signings of Dukes and Matuska were mere formalities.

All of that begs the question: Why make them wait so long?

For most sports, including men’s and women’s basketball, athletes may sign letters of intent during an early signing period that begins the second Wednesday in November and ends the following Wednesday.

While that might seem anticlimactic to some who follow football recruiting, the ability of players to sign early gives prep athletes in those sports the opportunity to focus more on their academics or their final high school basketball season.

Those would be among the benefits if the NCAA also instituted an early signing period for football that took place on perhaps the second Wednesday in August.

Even though some players would be forced to more quickly make their decision, their recruiting process wouldn’t include an additional six months of pleading from eager college coaches.

Hartley football coach Brad Burchfield, who calls himself a “strong proponent of an early signing day,” believes it would erase much of the “circus” that surrounds the recruiting process.

“More and more young people are identifying areas and universities of interest and they are making unofficial visits and gathering information long before their junior year in many cases,” Burchfield said. “The student-athlete is better informed about the university and program more than ever.”

In basketball, 2012 Pickerington Central graduate Caris LeVert originally signed with Ohio University in November 2011 but de-committed in April 2012 after Bobcats coach John Groce left for Illinois.

After leading the Tigers to the Division I state championship last March, LeVert quickly landed on his feet by signing with Michigan.

The biggest potential downside for an early football signing period is similar turnover among college coaches, but that could be alleviated if the NCAA would allow athletes who sign in August out of their commitments if the coach resigns or is fired.

There still would be some drama from time to time, and an early signing day would remain something to look forward to – minus an extra six months of feeding the egos of tomorrow’s potential stars.

Besides, we all probably could find something more constructive to do during the first Wednesday in February than watching a top recruit reveal his decision by putting on a baseball cap with his college’s logo.

Jarrod Ulrey is a ThisWeek sportswriter. Follow his blog, “On the Recruiting Trail,” for the latest in central Ohio high school recruiting news.

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