Divide remains within SEC on early signing period

photo SEC Southeastern Conference

The great debate through the first two days of the Southeastern Conference's spring meetings has been whether or not to extend the Thanksgiving football feast.

Several league coaches have expressed their support for an early signing period to precede national signing day, which is the first Wednesday in February. Not everybody is for the early signing period, but SEC coaches voted 14-0 to have it the first Monday after Thanksgiving if such a day is established.

"I think it's a great idea," LSU coach Les Miles told reporters in Destin, Fla. "It's all based on trying to serve the student-athlete. If he's grown up, wants to go to LSU or Missouri or wherever, his father and mother have gone to school there and he's been unofficially on your campus a bunch of times, then let's give him an opportunity to sign early.

"Let's not change the recruiting calendar, and let's not create a bunch of difficulty based on that. We're really only trying to serve those young men who want to come to your school."

The early signing period would apply to recruits who don't take visits to other schools.

Last week, the Atlantic Coast Conference recommended an early signing period. SEC coaches recommended that their athletic directors vote on the topic, but this would be a change that would have to occur on a national level.

Among the SEC coaches most adamant against an early signing period are South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and Georgia's Mark Richt.

"I like what we are doing now," Spurrier told reporters. "They don't have an NFL draft before a guy's third year. I think we should let them play through high school, but some schools like the early signing period. Some would sign guys after their sophomore year."

Richt fears that coaches could not work as much with their team throughout the course of a season because of the chaos recruiting could cause.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive said in a news conference Tuesday that the league on two occasions has opposed an early signing period, adding that the league was vocal in its opposition. Slive said Wednesday that the SEC overall still does not want one but that there would be a plan if the national rule changes.

The Conference Commissioners Association is scheduled to meet next month.

"A lot of kids know where they want to go and don't want to go through the process of wasting all those trips," Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork told reporters Wednesday. "I like that component of the discussion."

The great unknown

College football is embarking on a new frontier this season with a four-team playoff that will be assembled by a 13-member committee. It is replacing the Bowl Championship Series, which released standings each week that were formulated from the USA Today poll, the Harris poll and several computer services.

"I don't have any idea of what they're going to use," Saban said in a news conference. "No one has given us any criteria. The one thing the BCS had was 13 or so years of experience of trying to get it the best that they could get it, and I hope we use some of those lessons. I have a lot of faith and trust and confidence that there are a lot of good people in college football who will try and get everything right.

"Will it be perfect? Probably not, but I think the people on the committee will want to get it right as well."

Bill Hancock, the executive director of the playoff, has been in Destin this week and understands such concerns.

"It's interesting, because in the BCS we had a metric, and it was all decided by the metric," Hancock told reporters. "Here we have 13 folks studying teams and making subjective judgments, then putting those judgments together to come up with the rankings. So it's way different from the BCS.

"When people ask me what the biggest difference is with the BCS, that's my answer. The biggest difference is the selection committee."

SEC Network update

Slive is pleased with the advancement of the SEC Network as its Aug. 14 launch date becomes closer and closer. The network is available to AT&T U-verse and Dish Network subscribers but is not available to most providers, including Comcast Xfinity and EPB in Chattanooga.

"The network is now available to everybody," Slive said. "If your provider doesn't provide, if you switch to Dish, you've got the network. We've been in quality conversation with the other distributors, and I'm optimistic that at some point and time we'll have full distribution."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.