SEC coaches disagree on adding early signing period

Updated: May 29, 2007, 8:12 PM ET
Associated Press

DESTIN, Fla. -- The Southeastern Conference opened its annual spring meeting Tuesday with talk about adding an early signing period to college football.

There was plenty of debate.

Some say an early signing period could reduce the number of high school prospects committing to one school, then de-committing and signing with another. The idea drew support from Kentucky's Rich Brooks and Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson. But Florida's Urban Meyer strongly disapproved, and others were somewhat skeptical.

"Right now, the idea of it is pretty good," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "But I'm afraid what might follow is more than we ask for probably."

College football currently has one signing period, which begins in February. But with extra attention being paid to recruiting and more and more students enrolling early, coaches have been forced to recruit earlier than ever. Nowadays, it's common to get a nonbinding verbal commitment before a prospect's senior year of high school.

But that usually means months of phone calls and visits trying to keep the kid committed, then usually several anxious hours on signing day wondering if the extra -- and often expensive -- work would pay off.

"It would be a cost-saving thing certainly," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "The last two or three weeks, at least, there's a lot of baby-sitting going on, probably more than that. You kind of got to be there because somebody else may be."

Meyer has been one of the more active coaches late in the recruiting season, getting players to change their minds and sign with Florida.

Not surprisingly, Meyer hated the idea of schools being able to lock up recruits in early September or mid-December -- two of the potential dates being tossed around.

"I'm not comfortable signing kids you don't know," Meyer said. "I'd rather move later. I want to quit making mistakes. A mistake in recruiting just devastates a program. The only way to minimize the mistake-factor is to get to know someone.

"I think they should all come to camp. I think we should know their families. I think they should meet my family. That's when you usually get a good deal going. If you have an early signing period, that's not going to happen."

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier agreed, saying he would prefer to stick with the current model.

Although Fulmer acknowledged that an early signing period might benefit some coaches, recruits and their families, he stopped short of endorsing the idea.

He believes it would give programs in Texas, California and Florida -- states that produce the most football talent -- an advantage since they have more access to some of the best players year-round.

"I'm not sure it would benefit schools like Tennessee because our recruiting base is not necessarily the best," he said. "On the other hand, it might eliminate some wasted time for us. I want to know all the ramifications. I'm kind of on the fence. I want to see where we are with it."

Brooks and Johnson already knew where they stood.

"I have been in favor of an early signing period, and most of my brethren in this conference are not," Brooks said. "Maybe they figure they can come in and pick people from us lesser-known schools. I'm not sure. It's worked well for basketball. I don't see any reason it shouldn't work for football."

Some coaches said one concern would be signing someone early who might not have taken the SAT or ACT and may not be able to qualify for enrollment. But Johnson said that already happens with some recruits. He said the real reason some coaches don't want the early signing period is because "everybody thinks they can have a chance to sway somebody."

"I think it would take a lot of pressure off of everybody," Johnson added. "If (a recruit) hasn't made up his mind, don't sign. If he has, then sign. It's pretty logical to me."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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