Several coaches are already publicly lauding the new December early NSD. James Franklin at Penn State thinks it will become the default NSD for “75-85% of players.” Rivals Mike Farrell echoes that number, saying that the firm commits hover near 60-70%.
Former Temple prodigy Matt Rhule also loves the new signing period because “it saves resources,” his logic being that in January most coaches are having to go out and re-recruit players to get them to sign in February. The one difficulty most have observed is that scheduling OVs is going to consume more in-season time, and many are not pleased with having those recruiting junkets eat into their gameday prep time.
Not everyone is a fan of the period or necessarily agrees with Franklin’s assessment, however. In this article from Rivals, we hear from “an assistant at a Top-10 program” saying that the old system benefited high school students more, in that they could wait till the last moment to commit.
“I only think it’s going to really benefit the kids that are 100 percent locked in any way,” an assistant coach from a Top10 program told 247Sports. “I don’t think the other kids are going to sign.”
Which means the early signing date puts pressure on kids.
For those kids that are 100 percent committed to Alabama, Ohio State, USC and even a niche program like Northwestern, the early signing day is tailor-made for them. But they are in the minority of prospects.
For the prospects committed to middle-of-the-road Power Five programs or mid-majors, many of them continue to hear from their dream school or a more prestigious program even after they locked their spot up at those other places. The carrot is still out there dangling; they'll have to decide if it's worth waiting on and the risk-reward that comes with that.
What I’m hearing instead, is that teams that rely on late bloomers or flipping verbal commits are going to be impacted the most by losing raw prospects or late bloomers, as we’ve all speculated. I don’t care if he couches this in terms of sympathy (real or feigned) for kids having to meet a new high pressure deadline, it is apparent that he represents a school that does dangle the carrot. I also disagree with his assessment here re: undecideds: late bloomers are far more the exception than the rule. By the beginning of the junior year, quarterbacks are already narrowing down their chances; coaches can see athleticism at linebacker, say; or we can identify a monster right tackle. However, it is precisely because of those late bloomers that Saban and Urban Meyer have most recently opposed an early signing period.
If the argument is really about the benefit of students, then it’s nonsensical: little has been changed except a chance for kids to wrap up the recruiting circus earlier. There is no requirement that they sign in December; couching the early period as an artificial deadline imposed upon students is a red herring. If anything, an early signing period should signal whether or not the roster is even favorable at Dream School Y, should a pipe dream offer be available. And, that dream offer is more often than not going to be available in six weeks if the player has earned it and can compete for it.
There are legitimate, logistic concerns with the December period. Many coaches have noted that staffing priorities will change, and some transition will be required to shuffle-forward official visits. Alabama’s Nick Saban is one such coach that has emphasized issues with the new schedule that will need to be managed. And, as Matt Rhule notes, it will detract from weekday prep to some extent. However, to my knowledge, no coaches have been on record opposing it solely upon one or both of those grounds. However, most have emphasized wanting to have as much opportunity to evaluate as long as possible, particularly in those iffy academic cases with players who are scrambling their last semester or so to become eligible.
The other major objection posited by talking heads is that it sells student-athletes some false security since coaches can be gone at any time, especially as coordinators and assistants are fired or move on for other opportunities. That seems a problem that inheres in any recruiting relationship, and is one that can strike during January, March, or August. It is a relationship business, but as a paraprofessional, no student-athlete can seriously expect a staff to remain intact for the next four years upon inking a letter of intent: This year, for instance, only three schools in major college football return the same staff as last season. The odds are very long, then, that the staff who recruits a player, will be the same staff to see the players earn their diploma. This is not a net loss with the December period so much as it restating a situation that already exists.
Unspoken here for opponents of the December period is that an early signing day shifts the burden of risk onto coaching staffs, instead of upon students. It requires an earlier identification of talent, an accelerated judgment as to whether a player can compete at a certain school, whether that student posses the character, whether the student is an academic risks, and then requires cultivating a relationship strong enough to close the deal earlier: No one wants to pass on a player who then goes to a rival or midmajor and then shines. A notoriously risk-averse profession, and the loss of poaching opportunities, is really what the sparse opposition has been about -- don’t lose sight of that.
On balance, however, most agree that the the early signing period is a good system for the majority of student-athletes, particularly those who are committed early and for marginal athletes in the G5, even though it may disadvantage an occasional late bloomer like Joshua Jacobs, the highest of high profile players who play both sides against the middle, potential academic casualties, and coaches who prefer to wait until the last second on some prospects like Nick Saban and Urban Meyer.
However, in a one-sided negotiation when at least some risk of loss shifts to coaching staffs, that inures to the benefit of the average FBS recruit strikes me as a good thing overall.
Perhaps, in conjunction with rescinding a guaranteed four-year aid award, the early NSD can more appropriately even out the equities with respect to risky players who sign on early but then never mature, never physically get there or who can’t academically cut it. That is a conversation for another day. However, as an overall measure, it strikes me as decent first act that places both parties in an equipoise peril.