The NCAA Division I Council voted on Friday to allow an early signing period, beginning with this year's recruiting class. This isn't the final hurdle this long-awaited piece of legislation has to clear -- that will come in June, when the Conference Commissioners Association gathers -- but it's a major one. To gather a group of ADs, commissioners and other associated bureaucrats in a room, with input from coaches, and agree that, yes, a signing period needs to happen is a significant moment.
It's a significant moment that will have major ramifications for everyone attached to the FBS recruiting process. Unfortunately, the details we know at this point pale in comparison to what we do know. (For instance: will it mirror the dates of the current mid-year junior college transfer period?) It's also impossible to know how exactly an early signing period will work out until it actually happens.
But with a December signing period (likely) coming, it's fair to speculate on the ramifications of how this change will affect each level of the college football food chain.
What could this mean for ADs?
There's no hard-and-fast data for how many recruits are committed their schools by the beginning of December -- and, equally important, how many stick until February -- but Northwestern AD Jim Phillips estimated 70 percent of seniors were committed by October 1. If that number holds true moving forward, the December signing period will replace February as the major signing event on the calendar. Which means, as coaches and recruits move their decision-making process forward, ADs may have to do the same.
We're already seeing more ADs fire coaches in October and even September, bailing on coaches after poor starts in an effort to jump to the front of the line when coaches become available in late November and early December. With the deadline of having a recruiting class together -- or, at least most of a recruiting class together -- moving up from February to December, ADs could respond with a quicker trigger finger on struggling coaches.
What could this mean for coaches?
Here's the biggest question I have from this entire process: how will this affect the hiring process for head coaches? Will, say, James Franklin still leave Vanderbilt for Penn State in mid-January (he took the Penn State job on Jan. 11, 2014) if he signed 15 recruits to officially become Commodores in December? Or, if December becomes the new February, will the lion's share of the firing-hiring process be wrapped up by December?
One possible ripple effect: if the public consensus is that coaches who sign players in December are expected to stick around through February and the following year -- as they are now after the February signing period -- Power 5 schools may become more likely to hire Power 5 coordinators instead of Group of 5 head coaches for jobs that have yet to be filled by mid-December.
What could this mean for recruits?
A crucial detail in conjunction with the (likely) early signing period is the NCAA's approval of recruits taking official visits beginning April 1 of their junior year. It's likely, if not certain, the entire recruiting process will move up, but it won't be the only time recruits are permitted to sign. The first Wednesday in February isn't going away.
That means we could see versions of this conversation happening across the country in just a few months.
Coach: All right, Jimmy. You've been committed to us for six months now and I'm excited to make it official here in December.
Recruit: Well, Coach, I've been meaning to talk to you about that. A couple other schools really want me to visit in January and I was thinking of waiting until February to sign.
Coach: If that's the case, we may have to find a new running back to sign.
Or the reverse could happen.
Recruit: Coach, I've been committed to you for six months now and I'm so excited to finally sign here in December. It'll be so nice to have all these other coaches off my back soon.
Coach: Well, Jimmy, I've been meaning to talk to you about that. We've been talking to another running back and I was thinking we'd delay signing you until February.
Recruit: If that's the case, I may have to take some visits in January.
The December signing period could be especially difficult for those at the top and the bottom of the academic totem pole. Some recruits needing to show coaches a GPA bump in the fall semester could see their spots taken by less talented players with sure-thing grades. On the other end, schools like Stanford and Northwestern that need to see as many good grades and test scores as possible could see recruits picked off by other schools with less rigorous admission standards.
Again, it's impossible to know how coaches, recruits and ADs will view the December period versus the February Signing Day until it actually happens. But it'll be fascinating to see how it (probably) unfolds.