clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

College football’s Early Signing Period, explained

A lot of high school recruits will make their college choices on Wednesday, over a month before National Signing Day. Here’s a refresher.

NCAA Football: National Signing Day Albert Cesare-USA TODAY Sports

In the recent past, the Christmas of college football recruiting fell on the first Wednesday of February: National Signing Day, the first day in the calendar year in which prospective college football players were allowed to sign letters of intent to play for a DI program.

These days, ‘crootin Christmas falls, well, closer to actual Christmas. Today marks the beginning of the second annual Early Signing Period, a three-day window running Dec. 19-21 that allows those prospects who have already made up their mind to ink early. The full signing period still kicks off in early February, so you’ll still get to enjoy National Signing Day proper. But the majority of football’s top prospects will sign today.

This being just the second year of the Early Signing Period, you may have questions. We’re here to answer them.

Why is the Early Signing Period a thing?

It benefits coaches, for one. The American Football Coaches Association were the ones that petitioned the NCAA for this move. The thinking is that by introducing a short window for signing in December, coaches are able to lock in players who have already made up their mind, meaning less time and fewer resources need to go into his recruitment. Previously, a coach would have had to monitor and visit a prospect all the way into February to ensure he wasn’t flipped.

There’s a bit of a double-edged sword there, of course, in that coaches who relied on flipping guys at the end have less of an opportunity to do so. That generally benefits smaller schools—the shorter time frame leaves less opportunity for the big schools to swoop in on late-bloomers and under-the-radar recruits.

It also doesn’t hurt that this move gives ESPN not one, but two full days of wall-to-wall ‘crootin TV.

How many recruits will sign during the Early Signing Period?

Most of them. Here’s SB Nation’s Bud Elliot.

In year one, 68 of the top 101 recruits signed in the inaugural Early Signing Period, while the rest waited until the traditional National Signing Day in February.

When the ESP is finished, around 70 percent of all eventual signees will have signed. That was 65 percent in 2017, per 247’s count. Some teams were closer to 50 percent, and some were in the 90s.

There will still be a lot of talent on the board after the period ends, but February’s Signing Day won’t be quite the big spectacle it was in the past.

What happens to those recruits that don’t sign during the early period?

They’ll sign during the traditional signing period, which begins February 6 during this cycle.

Aren’t teams, like, playing bowl games right now?

Indeed, they are! That’s another challenge of this system, requiring coaching staffs to put in heavy recruiting hours while preparing for bowls. Eighteen schools are playing games this week, including San Diego State and Ohio, who kick off Wednesday night. Talk about a hectic workload.

Of course, the truncated schedule also means that many school are going through coaching turmoil in the midst of recruiting’s biggest day. Consider that Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo was hired away by North Carolina just nine days before the Early Signing Period and has yet to be replaced. In the past system, Ole Miss would have had over a month to soothe those prospects who were recruited by Longo. Not so any more.

The recruits, who are theoretically the ones supposed to be benefitting from this whole thing, are the ones who get the short end of the stick in those situations. Bud Elliot again:

Most head coaching moves are done by the time the ESP begins. But assistant coaches will still be moving around for a few more weeks, and there’s often a January head coaching surprise somewhere.

There will be players who sign in December, thinking they’ll play for specific coaches, but who wind up not. It happened frequently in the class of 2018, when the introduction of a 10th FBS assistant coach greased the carousel. That’s the inevitable consequence of a system that restricts player movement but not coach movement.

Again, the Early Signing Period is in just its second year. It’s hard to know things will change year-to-year, how schools and recruits will adjust to the new ecosystem. We’ll know even more on the other side of the 2018 period.