Early signing period a bad idea

Proposed rule benefits coaches and schools -- not student-athletes

Updated: June 4, 2014, 12:38 PM ET
By Rod Gilmore | ESPN Insider

Eddie VanderdoesChris Williams/Icon SMIEddie Vanderdoes' recruitment is an example of why an early signing period is a bad idea.

In a few days, college football commissioners and Susan Peal, the director of the national letter of intent (NLI), will discuss a proposal for a new rule that will allow high school football players to sign (and be bound by) a national letter of intent earlier than the current first Wednesday in February of their senior year. The commissioners might select an "early signing date" during the fall of players' senior year of high school or the summer before their senior year.

Now, we all enjoy an early special, such as happy hour or an early bird parking garage discount, right? These are enjoyable things that benefit all parties. However, an early signing date for high school players makes little sense. With college presidents campaigning for a return to emphasizing the "student" in "student-athlete," all of the lawsuits dogging college football and a National Labor Relations Board ruling supporting players' rights and labeling players "employees," it's hard to believe that commissioners would choose now to push for a rule that places more emphasis on a student's commitment to football first.

Why the push? NLI's Peal says the early signing date has been considered for years but recently picked up steam as commissioners began to observe continued acceleration in recruiting, such as offers and verbal commitments being made earlier. Yes, earlier used to mean offers to high school juniors, and then it came to mean offers to high school sophomores. But it's gotten worse. In the past two years, USC, UCLA, Alabama, LSU and Texas all made early scholarship offers to eighth graders. Those kids aren't even old enough for a driving permit.

But the real reason behind the proposed rule change may be more basic than that: Many coaches are frustrated that recruits who have made a verbal commitment to their school later break that commitment and sign with a different school. Coaches want to get written commitments from those players so that they no longer need to worry about players "flipping" and can stop spending money and time on those players.

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said that an early signing date is on his "wish list" in order to eliminate "some of the silliness" in recruiting. Recently, Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford stated that all ACC coaches are in favor of the early signing date (asking for an Aug. 1 date), while the Southeastern Conference appears to favor a Dec. 1 date.

It's clear why many coaches want an early signing date, but in my opinion it is a terrible idea and should never be adopted. Here are four reasons.

Rod Gilmore

College Football analyst
Rod Gilmore serves as an ESPN studio analyst on SportsCenter and College Football Live, and provides commentary on ESPN's Friday night game telecasts. He writes regularly for ESPN Insider.