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January 4, 2010

Prospects chime in on early signing period

MORE: Sizing up the Army Bowl rosters | All-star coverage | Army All-American Bowl coverage

SAN ANTONIO - Dillon Baxter, the top-ranked athlete in the Rivals.com 250 rankings for the Class of 2010, had not even started his junior season at San Diego (Calif.) Mission Bay when he committed to Southern Cal in June 2008.

He never wavered … never seriously considered any other place.

Matt Elam, the No. 2-ranked safety, felt the same way when he committed to Florida in October 2008.

Then, following last week's wavering by Gators head coach Urban Meyer, Elam announced he had changed his mind. He's now committed to SEC rival Florida State.

Two Top 25 overall recruits, but two different scenarios. Is it any wonder there was such a mixed reaction when the subject of adding an early signing period came up this week among the top recruits playing in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio?

As it stands, players can not sign an official letter of intent until National Signing Day in early February of their senior year. According to a USA Today report in January 2008, in a survey discussed at the American Football Coaches Association convention, 60 percent of "major college coaching staffs" supported a second signing period with overwhelming support for mid-December.

Rivals.com recruiting analyst Barry Every can see why coaches would be in favor of the measure. An early period would allow coaching staffs to lock-in players that are sure they've made the right decision and allow them to focus on uncommitted prospects.

As it stands, schools still need to 'babysit' their recruits though Signing Day, making sure other schools don't steal them away.

"It makes it easier for coaching staffs to plan," Every said. "They don't have to worry about last-second changes in December or even worse than that some of these changes in January (leave them) scrambling to find another guy. These would be guys they know they have, they could count on them that they're going to be there whether they graduate early or get there in the summer."

There are risks to an early signing period, though, and that's why there still remains a healthy amount of hesitation.

Among the issues to consider:

  • Recruiting calendars would have to be pushed up even further, leaving coaches no choice but to recruit more on potential than production. And those evaluations are inherently flawed as some players make dramatic physical changes between their junior and senior seasons.

  • Changes aren't always physical. Asking a 16- or 17-year old kid to stick with any decision for a long time is a challenge. Why expect him to be able to do so with one as important as this?

  • Coaches can change their minds, too. Most hirings and firings normally come during the December period. It's hard to ask players to keep their word when so many coaches are job jumping.

  • Pressure. Even more pressure. Top athletes may feel the need to decide even earlier in fear that a potential scholarship will be offered to someone else.

    In other words, an early signing period may only make things worse, or at minimum add even more confusion.

    "It's already crazy as it is with these kids having early offers," Every said. "It's going to get crazier and more schools are going to make mistakes in recruiting. You don't know how they're going to develop mentally and physically because there are already a lot of mistakes being made because of how early kids are committing.

    "The other thing is all kids should pick a school on the school, not who the head coach is. But let's face it, they use the coach as one of the front things as a recruiting tool. If there's an early signing period, whether he's fired, or he takes another job or he retires for health reasons, that's a definite negative. You'll find parents and kids trying to find loopholes to get out of them if the coach makes a change."

    Players can see the sides, too.

    Even though he committed early, Baxter's "recruiting" was not over. Phone calls, texts and e-mails kept coming.

    "Just because you commit, that won't stop a college," said Baxter, who visited Michigan in November but never seriously considered the Wolverines. "Pretty much everybody knows that. You have to stay true to your word and follow your heart wherever you go. You just have to fit in where you fit in."

    For Canonsburg (Pa.) Canon McMillan four-star linebacker Mike Hull , who committed to Penn State in late 2008, an early signing period would have been the perfect choice.

    Hull was always a fan of the Nittany Lions, so it was not a surprise when he committed early. Getting the recruiting process finished by signing a binding letter-of-intent earlier than the traditional signing day would have been his preference. It makes perfect sense to Hull.

    "A lot of other schools are trying to come in still trying to talk to me," Hull said. "It was hard telling them I was committed to another school and everything. It is a little bit tempting, but you have to look at the long run and look at the reasons you chose your school.

    "I always knew Penn State was the school I wanted to go to and I knew if I committed early some people would follow. We wound up with a really good recruiting class ... I definitely would have signed early just to get it over with and get that insurance."

    Others are glad they are taking their time.

    Christian Green , an uncommitted four-star athlete from Tampa (Fla.) Catholic, is still choosing among six schools with Florida, Florida State and Georgia at the top of his list. He doesn't mind that so many in his class have already selected. He just knows he's not ready.

    "If the kid is ready to commit, he should go ahead and commit," he said. "I'm trying to make sure everything is right and what I'm doing is right."

    MORE: Army All-American Bowl coverage



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