When the NCAA decided to add an early signing period for football beginning in 2017, the excitement that fans at the high school and college levels felt was logical.
Rather than having just one signing period that began on the first Wednesday in February, we’d also get one in December to recognize the athletes who will move from starring under the lights on Fridays to playing in bigger venues on Saturdays.
What could be wrong with that?
For the players, in particular those who committed to a college program months or even years ago, the early signing period provides a chance to get their college dreams started sooner, which can be beneficial in such a challenging and competitive environment.
The biggest advantage for college coaches, particularly those at Power 5 schools like Ohio State, where Pickerington Central senior Ty Hamilton signed in December, is that the earlier athletes sign, the more control a coach has in terms of how his recruiting class looks.
Of course, there are downsides, including those involving football’s current national letter of intent structure.
Prep athletes hope to play at the collegiate level for myriad reasons, including scholarship money, the love of their sport or hoping to make the leap to the pros.
The athletes who are elite enough in skill or athletic ability to get scholarship offers often solidify their decisions as soon as possible.
That’s the case for players in the 2021 recruiting class such as Pickerington North defensive end Jack Sawyer, who committed to Ohio State as a sophomore, and Dublin Coffman outside linebacker Devon Williams, who committed to Kentucky on Jan. 27.
Both of those players, however, must wait almost an entire year before they can sign.
Some of the area’s best basketball talent, such as VonCameron Davis (Kent State) of the Walnut Ridge boys team and Alexia Smith (Minnesota), Nyam Thornton (Texas Tech) and Sakima Walker (Rutgers) from the two-time defending Division III state champion Africentric girls team signed in mid-November before their current seasons began.
Talk about taking the pressure off as they entered their final prep seasons.
If the NCAA switched the early signing period for football from December to a date such as the final Wednesday of July before the start of two-a-days, or the third Wednesday in August before the season starts in most states, players could focus solely on their senior seasons while having their futures secure.
There would be significant advantages for colleges, too.
Instead of doing a heavy amount of recruiting in December when a large percentage of teams are preparing for a bowl game, those coaches would be trying to get athletes to commit during the summer months when their schedules are lighter.
The reality is that how a player fares during his senior season often doesn’t have nearly as much impact on his recruiting status as how he performs during college camps between April and June of his junior year.
There also are plenty of reports of larger schools sometimes offering players and later reneging on the offer, or they offer scholarships to more players than they have open slots for, which leaves some athletes in a dilemma.
If you’re worried that too many football players would have their future sidetracked by the college football coaching carousel that often takes place in December if they sign before the season, keep in mind that programs such as Baylor, Mississippi State and Washington State all announced new coaches after the December signing period.
That’s why the February signing period remains a necessity.
Perhaps the area’s best wide receiver last fall, Pickerington North’s Chris Scott, elected to wait out his college options and was expected to sign with Cincinnati on Feb. 5.
The later signing period is perfect for smaller FBS and FCS programs and those from other divisions to sign players that were passed over by Power 5 schools.
Regardless of whether the NCAA keeps the current signing structure or tweaks it in the coming years, the best thing any prep football player can do is sign as early as he feels comfortable doing so, be it during the early period or February.
The athletes just have to keep in mind that the longer the process lasts, the more risk that’s involved.