Early Signing Period, Official Visit Change Highlight New FB Recruiting Policies

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The NCAA Division 1 Council announced Friday the passing of several football-recruiting-related actions, actions that Council chair Jim Phillips called “the most significant progress in recent years to improve the football environment and culture for current and prospective student-athletes and coaches.”

Read the entire list of policy changes by clicking here. There were two legislative accomplishments that particularly grabbed my attention.

Changes the recruiting calendar to allow for an early signing period in December (effective Aug. 1). Only the Collegiate Commissioners Association can create new National Letter of Intent signing periods.

FINALLY! Football is adopting an Early Signing Period to go along with the traditional signing period, which begins with the February National Signing Day and runs through April.

An Early Signing Period in December is a welcome addition to an antiquated FBS football recruiting process. When I started covering recruiting in the late 1990s, fall and winter official visits from high school seniors was the big deal. Many kids committed as seniors. Two decades later, the norm is to commit before senior year (sometimes well before) with fewer prospects waiting to make those once-important senior year officials. Since verbal commitments are non-binding, the pressure is on for coaches to make sure those commitments are solid, especially with key players at key positions of need. Late de-commits, particularly from prospects who committed very early on, can be damaging to a program.

For coaches, an Early Signing Period will provide a clear picture of where their class stands. “Commitments” who don’t sign early make it evident that they are not fully committed. This December period enables coaches some extra time to recruit a replacement. This time should be very helpful, particularly when there is a crucial need (UVA on the offensive line, for example) to fill.

Conversely, coaches will show their cards as well. If a school is wavering on a commitment in favor of pursuing others, an Early Signing Period is a great way for the committed prospect to know where he stands. If no LOI is offered in December, there is time for said prospect to explore his options as well. This scenario doesn’t happen as often a prospect de-committing, but it has happened.

This Early Signing Period, which reportedly will be finalized on April 26, is a win-win for both college coach and high school prospect.

The NCAA adds a period for official visits that begins April 1 of the junior year and ends the Sunday before the last Wednesday in June of that year. Official visits can’t occur in conjunction with a prospect’s participation in a school’s camp or clinic (effective Aug. 1).

Currently, a prospect can begin taking official visits once he starts classes his senior year. This change lets a prospect take visits during the latter part of his junior year.

Unlike the Early Signing Period, this won’t impact the 2018 Class. But adding an earlier time for official visits to be made is another good move in line with the times of today, for a couple of reasons …

– Prospects are committing early anyway, so why not let them take official visits earlier to get a more complete picture of what each school has to offer? Unofficial visits for things such as Junior Days, spring practices, and games are important, but in most cases a prospect is on campus for a short time and then headed home. On an official, a prospect can explore a school for multiple days at a time and get a glimpse of what life at a school is like.

The big thing here is that this should help prospects make more informed decisions. Hopefully, this helps crack down on de-commitments and flips as a result. It also helps the recruit who can’t hit the road every weekend on unofficial visits. They won’t have to wait until their senior year to thoroughly explore their top schools.

– This change should give recruits a better idea of where they stand with a school.

At this point, FBS schools are not allowed to offer an official scholarship until August 1 before a prospect’s senior year. Barring a change in policy, we are left with coaches extending verbal offers and the confusion that can come with that as well as whether an offer is “committable” or not.

Let’s say I’m a recruit with a supposed offer. I want to set an official visit sometime between April and the end of June. The head coach puts it off. That tells me I may not be one of the school’s top targets. At the very least I’m prompted to ask questions to clarify my standing and whether or not the scholarship offer is legit. This clarity is certainly a positive for recruits.

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