College football's early signing period causing concerns for coaches

College football's early signing period causing concerns for coaches

December 17th, 2017 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Alabama football coach Nick Saban does not like having an early signing period during the middle of preparations for the Sugar Bowl.

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Alabama coach Nick Saban has been college football's king of recruiting, having landed No. 1 signing classes nationally nine out of the last 10 years.

Following Friday night's first on-campus practice for the Sugar Bowl, the Pied Piper of promising prospects made it clear he's no fan of the early signing period, which is being implemented for the first time by the NCAA. The early signing period spans 72 hours, beginning this Wednesday morning and ending Friday night.

"I didn't like it when we did it, and I don't like it now," Saban said in a news conference. "I don't think it's in the players' best interest. I don't see how it benefits anybody. It's really stressful for everyone. We're all trying to get ready for bowl games or playoff games, and we've got a signing date right in the middle of when we're practicing.

"It was very stressful for a lot of coaches to get out and see as many guys as they could in December. It's accelerated everything."

The NCAA announced the early signing period on April 14, with NCAA Division I Council chair Jim Phillips touting it as a benefit for those going through the process.

"Today's adoption of the football legislation marks the most significant progress in recent years to improve the football environment and culture for current and prospective student-athletes and coaches," Phillips, who is Northwestern's vice president for athletics and recreation, said in a released statement.

This has been a busy weekend around the country for colleges hosting football recruits, but Monday begins a "dead period" on the NCAA calendar that runs through Jan. 11. During a dead period, college coaches may not have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents, and they may not watch student-athletes compete or visit their high schools.

Coaches can, however, write and telephone student-athletes or their parents during a dead period.

Duke's David Cutcliffe also has bemoaned the new early signing period. Cutcliffe's Blue Devils are 6-6 and playing Northern Illinois in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit on Dec. 26, nearly a week earlier than Alabama's showdown against Clemson in New Orleans.

Cutcliffe hosted 16 families last weekend on official visits before his recruiting trail resumed early last week with flights to Dallas and then Fort Lauderdale.

"I don't think the early signing period is all that practical," he told Charlotte's WFNZ radio last week.

Though only 32 years old, Austin Peay's Will Healy is recognized as one of the top recruiters in the Football Championship Subdivision. Healy already is sensing that some of the headaches he experiences each February with the traditional signing date have arrived earlier with the new period.

"I don't know how it's going to pan out," Healy said last week as a guest of "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM. "We're probably going to sign two-thirds of our class now. We're telling kids that if you want to sign in December, then come visit in December. If you want to sign in February, you're not visiting us until January.

"You're hanging on for dear life. We just lost a kid to a Pac-12 school. The trickle-down effect is still happening."

Media coverage of the early signing period will have a familiar feel, as both ESPNU and the SEC Network will have shows Wednesday dedicated to the event. The two-hour show on ESPNU will include four top prospects who will be making their decisions on the air.

Cade Mays, the five-star offensive tackle from Knoxville Catholic, is scheduled to announce between 2:30 and 3 p.m. His finalists are Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State.

During Friday night's sounding off, Saban said the early signing period has created two new problems.

He believes more prospects are getting pressured by more schools to sign early, so they don't get an opportunity later in the recruiting process when a scholarship offer from a bigger school comes along. He also thinks a lot of the new coaching staffs — the Southeastern Conference alone has six new head coaches from this time last year — are rushing to tell prospects not to sign now so they can recruit them.

"Maybe I shouldn't be speaking like this, but I have not talked to a coach who's happy with it. Not one," Saban said. "Maybe they wouldn't say what all I've just said, but we're dealing with it. It is what it is."

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly admitted Saturday afternoon in a news conference that he does like the early date. Kelly's Irish will play LSU in the Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day in a matchup of 9-3 teams.

"From our perspective, it has allowed us to really identify those who really want to be at Notre Dame," Kelly said. "It's taxing, but it's doable."

Jobe flips to Tide

Josh Jobe, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound cornerback from Connecticut, flipped his commitment Saturday from Miami to Alabama. Jobe is rated by 247Sports.com as the nation's No. 13 corner and No. 95 prospect overall.

The addition of Jobe moved Alabama up a spot to No. 8 in the 247Sports team standings, passing rival Auburn.

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