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NCAA’s 2017 rule change: An early signing period for college football could help schools like Missouri

The rule change introduces more variables to recruitment and more possible opportunities for advantage. This post has been updated.

Track and Field: NCAA Indoor Championships Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Here are the full list of rule changes from the NCAA’s official website:

- It 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.

- It 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).

- It prevents Football Bowl Subdivision schools from hiring people close to a prospective student-athlete for a two-year period before and after the student’s anticipated and actual enrollment at the school. This provision was adopted in men’s basketball in 2010 (effective immediately, though schools may honor contracts signed before Jan. 18, 2017).

- Football Bowl Subdivision schools are limited to signing 25 prospective and current student-athletes to a first-time financial aid agreement or a National Letter of Intent. Exceptions exclude current student-athletes who have been enrolled full-time at the school for at least two years and prospective or current student-athletes who suffer an incapacitating injury (effective for recruits who sign after Aug. 1, 2017).

- It limits the time for Football Bowl Subdivision coaches to participate in camps and clinics to 10 days in June and July and requires that the camps take place on a school’s campus or in facilities regularly used by the school for practice or competition. Staff members with football-specific responsibilities are subject to the same restrictions. The Football Championship Subdivision can conduct and participate in camps during the months of June and July (effective immediately, though schools may honor contracts signed before Jan. 18, 2017).

- It allows coaches employed at a camp or clinic to have recruiting conversations with prospects participating in camps and clinics and requires educational sessions at all camps and clinics detailing initial eligibility standards, gambling rules, agent rules and drug regulations (effective immediately).

- It allows Football Bowl Subdivision schools to hire a 10th assistant coach (effective Jan. 9, 2018).

[The following portion was originally published October 7th, 2016.]

College football tends to generally suffer from a lack of leadership, a lack of consensus. This typically leads to slow, insignificant efforts to solving larger issues. But when it comes to recruiting and the long-professed debate about an early signing period, we might actually end up with some regulation soon.

On Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Council unveiled components of a new model for college football recruiting, proposing major cutbacks and restrictions to satellite camps and the introduction of two new early signing periods.

The council proposed legislation that would cut the days in a year from 30 to 10 that coaches were allowed to conduct camps. Only coaches permitted to recruit off campus could participate -- and the camps would be required to take place on campuses or in the facilities used primarily for practice or competition by member schools. A final vote on the camp changes is planned for April, and if the proposition passes it would essentially end lengthy nationwide barnstorming tours like Jim Harbaugh's Summer Swarm Tour that drew so much criticism from rival recruiters the past two summers.

An early signing period has been a topic of conversation for years. The recruiting calendar forces programs to not only score commits but retain them for perhaps a long period of time. And if a program like Missouri scores a three-star commit from a prospect who has a great senior year, late-evaluating heavyweights will swoop in and attempt to steal him away. Meanwhile, those second-tier programs will do the same to others both in and below their tier.

An early signing period could change some of that.

The most obvious reason that [Urban] Meyer doesn’t want the system to change is that it would deprive Ohio State of the ability to flip players after their senior seasons.

Let’s paint a picture. Johnny Kerr is a defensive end from Indiana. He is 6’4 and 205 pounds, and has a nice junior season. Minnesota and a few other mid-level Big Ten schools have offered him. Ohio State does not believe he is a Buckeye-level recruit and has not offered.

In an early signing period, Kerr might believe Minnesota is the best he can do and sign with the Gophers in July before his senior year. He gets his recruitment off his mind and knows that the school will honor his scholarship even if he gets hurt as a senior. At that point he’s gained five pounds and is now 210, decent progress.

But then Kerr blows up and come December, he’s had 20 sacks and put on 10 pounds and is now 6’4 and 220 pounds.

Now he’s definitely an Ohio State-level recruit. But there’s a problem: Ohio State cannot try to get in on his recruitment now because he has already signed with Minnesota.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Mississippi
Any rule that is slightly bad for Nick Saban and Alabama is at least a little bit good for everyone else.
Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Meyer is a recruiting powerhouse. So is Alabama’s Nick Saban ... who also isn’t a fan of this potential rule.

Saban wouldn’t be able to bookmark recruits with things like contingent offers or offers made in a kid’s sophomore season. Instead, he’d have to spend time convincing rising seniors not to commit elsewhere early, so that he would have the full opportunity to decide whether it’s worth extending a binding offer. Even for Alabama, that’s a tougher sell.

Figure on plenty more angst to come on how early signing periods are bad for the kids. After all, that’s how these guys roll.

Alabama and Ohio State will always sign top recruiting classes. It is the way of the universe. But an early signing period would present opportunities for second-tier schools.

Missouri scored a commitment from safety Tavon Ross a few years ago, and he proceeded to dominate as a senior. Schools like Alabama and Georgia swooped in with offers, but Mizzou managed to fend them off. It doesn’t always work that way.

With an early signing period, Missouri could have secured the signature of players like Ross, Evan Boehm (a 2012 signee who committed early, then decommitted in the fall of 2011, forcing Mizzou to continue recruiting him deep into recruiting season), and Trystan Castillo (ditto in 2016) earlier, then utilized remaining resources on securing new commits in the fall and winter. (That is, they could have if these players signed during the June signing period. Obviously they wouldn’t have to.)

Another way it could help: the Joshua Jacobs example. Jacobs had few offers heading into his senior season and was just a mid-three-star recruit. But his spectacular late play scored him offers from schools like Missouri and, eventually, Alabama. Mizzou appeared to be in excellent shape for his services for a while, but Bama eventually won the day. Jacobs has already cracked the three-deep in Tuscaloosa and has rushed 27 times for 197 yards over the last two weeks.

An early signing period wouldn’t have helped Missouri, obviously — the Tigers were also in on him after June, I believe. But it could have provided a huge benefit to a school like Purdue or Wyoming, which did offer him early on.

An early signing period could have meant that Damarea Crockett signed with Boise State, not Mizzou.
Derrick Forsythe (Rock M Nation)

An early signing period would benefit schools like Missouri; it wouldn’t simply benefit Missouri. Last year, Boise State may have been able to secure early signatures from quarterback Micah Wilson and running back Damarea Crockett. That would have left Mizzou searching for different, less attractive options when Barry Odom and his new staff took over last year. With 245 rushing yards and a 6.1-yard average per carry, Crockett has easily been the brightest bulb in this year’s Mizzou run game.

Still, if this rule passes, it would be a victory for college football’s more democratic side. The blue bloods will always be the blue bloods, but this would introduce an extra variable of both talent evaluation and offer strategy to the equation. Every new variable is a new opportunity to find an inefficiency to exploit. That can only help the schools that aren’t current at the top of the recruiting universe.

If schools like Alabama get 2-3 fewer players each year that they really want, and those players end up boosting the rosters of teams like Missouri, Purdue, Boise State, Wyoming, etc., then score one for democracy.

The NCAA also banned two a day practices, which was a long time coming, says Richard Johnson.