Normally I'm not a big fan of Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini, but I do like an idea he recently proposed.
One of the big debates going on around college football this offseason has been the possibility of instituting an early signing period for recruits who are ready to sign a national letter of intent before the first Wednesday in February. That has been the first official day to sign with a program in football for years now.
While some are proposing allowing recruits to sign in August before their senior season begins or the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend or both in addition to the February date, Pelini is asking why we need to limit it to certain days at all. Why not just let kids sign when they're ready to sign whether it's a Tuesday in June or a Sunday evening in October or a Thursday afternoon in January?
That's the American way. You're free to make up your mind when you're ready and chart your course based on timing that is right for you.
Of course, the program would have to be ready to accept the signature and that might be the best part of Pelini's suggestion.
Giving recruits the freedom to sign when they want to would take much of the gamesmanship from coaches out of the equation in the recruiting process. Coaches would be forced to be much more direct and honest with recruits.
Right now coaches extend scholarship offers to recruits they don't really want, but they want to have a chance to sign that player if things don't work out with their first or second choice.
Pelini also wisely suggests that recruits be allowed out of their national letters of intent if a coaching change occurs at the school they have picked. That's just the right thing to do. I have no idea why some coaches and athletic administrators ever feel it is appropriate to trap a young man or woman in a situation they didn't sign up for before they have even enrolled in classes.
We can still limit coaches to discussing their recruiting class one time each year in February. In fact, that's probably how it should be done so we're not having press conferences for every signing throughout the year. Trust me, it would happen if coaches thought the extra limelight would help land recruits.
Limiting coaches to one press conference on recruiting a year would help retain some of the pageantry of signing day now.
But the current system is antiquated. It was designed in a different era when it was much more difficult for recruits and their families to get a feel for a program, coaching staff, school and campus. Technology has made all of that much easier now.
I would also change the rules regarding official visits and allow them to take place starting in the spring of a prospect's junior year in high school. That would help alleviate some of the pressure put on coaching staffs to recruit during the football season when they're trying to coach their teams.
This really is just another example of how stupid the NCAA can be at times, even when it has the best intentions. Right now there are different rules for different sports regarding when a recruit can visit campuses and when he or she can sign a national letter of intent. These decisions are every bit as stressful for football recruits as they are for those in basketball or volleyball or lacrosse. Why does the NCAA give recruits in those other sports greater flexibility to navigate the recruiting process?
There are some who are opposed to an early signing period in football such as Stanford coach David Shaw and Georgia coach Mark Richt.
Richt is in the be-careful-what-you-wish-for camp. He seems to think an early signing date would lead to mayhem and massive problems, but he can't really articulate exactly why or what the problems might be.
Shaw says an early signing period would hurt schools like Stanford that put more emphasis on academics. Signing kids too early presumably would lead to the possibility those recruits could slip in their studies with the pressure off and wouldn't end up qualifying.
That's a completely bogus argument for Shaw to be making. First of all, it's Stanford. He isn't recruiting the type of guys who would let their studies go in the first place. It's a different breed that gets into Stanford.
If anything, I would think an early signing period would help a school like Stanford, unless those claims over the years that the school doesn't have any special admits — recruits who don't meet the academic requirements — are false.
At Colorado, an early signing date or Pelini's plan would help coach Mike MacIntyre at least this much. The recruits who commit to him in the spring of their junior years or the summer before they're seniors could sign and MacIntyre and his assistants wouldn't have to spend months fending off other programs.
MacIntyre is a big proponent of evaluating recruits through their senior seasons, which tells me he might not be a big fan of an early signing period. But he also prides himself on his ability and the ability of his assistant coaches to evaluate and project what a player might become a year or two or three down the line.
An early signing date would be a boon to the best talent evaluators and it would expose coaches who rely too much on others to do their work for them.
The bottom line here is offering an early signing date would simply open a door that is currently closed and present options to recruits and programs. Those recruits would be free to stick to the current system and wait to sign in February if they think that is what is best for them.