Signing day a costly formality


Basketball has an early signing date. Football doesn't, and there's no good reason why. Most recruits and schools have made their decisions about each other. You would think, in a competition as spirited as recruiting, that the end of the game would be the most exciting. But it's the final week of recruiting season, and you could cut the tension with a strand of linguine.

Most schools have all but filled their 2004 recruiting classes, and the coaches are just waiting for the fax machine to begin humming on Feb. 4.

"I wouldn't say we're done," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said Monday morning. "We have 21 scholarships to give. We've been at 17 (commitments) for quite a while. For the last four, we have eight or nine (candidates) left who are all really good players. We had 15 or 16 before Christmas."

Stoops believes an early signing date would not only make life easier for coaches and recruits, but it would save Division I-A schools a lot of money. NCAA rules allow a coach to visit a recruit once a week. Even though the player has committed, it's not official, so the schools still send their coaches out to babysit the commitment, which is silly, when, as Stoops estimated, 95 percent of the players have made up their minds.

"If they had a day, say the last Friday before the bowls," Stoops said, "we would save a lot of money. How many guys do we go see, and fly around the country, and stay in a hotel every single week, who have been committed since the fall? We're still going to see them in January."

That's probably $20,000 or $30,000 out the window. The early signing date does have drawbacks. Some schools want as long as possible to work on recruits, especially ones who have made early commitments and are wavering. An early signing date could alter the recruiting calendar, which is as good for football coaches as it has ever been.

"Be careful what you wish for," Stoops said. "Basketball coaches hate their recruiting schedule. They are recruiting all year around for five guys. We recruit in December and January. I wish they would move it to January and February."

Public Enemy No. 1

No one in the state of Alabama much liked Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer to begin with, but the court documents that identified him as a "secret witness" in the NCAA case against Alabama has sealed Fulmer's status as the most reviled man in the state.

Lawyers in a U.S. District Court case involving former Crimson Tide booster Logan Young released the documents recently, and Alabama fans have viewed this as one more item of proof that their school got railroaded. Their feeling is that your secret witness is one of your bitterest rivals, you don't have to be a $500-an-hour lawyer to figure out that the scales of justice are tilted.

Except that the NCAA, according to spokesman Josh Howard, doesn't use any "secret" testimony unless it can corroborate it. Alabama fans are acting as if they think Fulmer is the first coach to rat on a rival program. If coaches didn't turn in their opponents, who would? Fulmer doesn't come out of this looking very good at all, but the revelation of his role doesn't give the Crimson Tide a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Ready To Move On

Bob Stoops performed his postmortem on the Sugar Bowl the day after, and then moved on. Most of him moved on, anyway. He is still having 3 a.m. meetings with himself to go over the 21-14 loss to LSU, the one that cost him a second national championship in four seasons.

"I didn't believe the last two years that we were quite good enough to win it," Stoops said Monday morning. "We were this year. That's what kind of gets you as a coach. You feel like you didn't do your job. I wake up at night frustrated. It wasn't like it was a dumb call we made. You do have peace of mind that you managed the game the right way. You still wake up and think, 'How did this happen?'"

Stoops said several times that he would not make excuses, that a formidable opponent played well enough to beat the Sooners.

"There are no reasons," he said. "Everybody has to have a reason. The bottom line is it's a play or two. The momentum changes, and the play is different."

He could point to the two first-quarter turnovers forced by the Sooners and negated by the Sooners' penalties -- the offside penalty on the fumble that Donte Nicholson recovered on the Oklahoma 33 was a good call, Stoops said, but the holding on the interception that Brandon Everage returned to the LSU 21 "was nuts."

He's got a few other plays that he has gone over in his head a few hundred times, the way that the losing coach does. The winning coach spends January accepting congratulations.

When Stoops thinks about what prevented Oklahoma from winning, however, he focuses on the difficulty of managing the month of December, when bowl preparations must compete with recruiting and the ceremonies and banquets that have multiplied like mushrooms in the college football postseason.

The Sooners had a December like Titanic had the Oscars, winning seven major awards -- the Heisman (quarterback Jason White), O'Brien (White), Nagurski (cornerback Derrick Strait), Thorpe (Strait), Lombardi (defensive tackle Tommie Harris), Butkus (linebacker Teddy Lehman) and Bednarik (Lehman). Stoops insisted in New Orleans that the distractions weren't a problem. He sounded sincere. He wasn't.

"I couldn't talk about it then, but it's been a negative," Stoops said. "I'm not going to talk about a negative before we play ... Here's a part of it. It was all happening the week we were off (Dec. 8-12). We didn't miss practice. But we were setting it all up the week of the Big 12 Championship. You can say you're not going to talk about it until Sunday, but the players leave on Sunday. You just have to manage it. We managed it in 2000."

Stoops takes solace in the fact that, as feeble as the Sooners were, they still had four snaps to tie the game from the LSU 12 in the final four minutes. That's not a blowout.

"We played pretty damn average and we had a chance to win a couple or three times," Stoops said. "They had a lot to do with how we played average. We held them to two touchdowns. We missed a couple of tackles early. In 2000, when we won (the Orange Bowl over Florida State), 13-2, we got the big play, the fumble recovery from Chris Weinke that set up a touchdown, and on defense, we didn't miss the two tackles."

Stoops said he won't be waking up in the middle of the night much longer. He won't talk about the Sugar Bowl again after signing day. It will be time for a new season, and the possibilities will again be endless.

"We got a chance to be pretty good," he said.

There's Always Something

Gavin Dickey arrived at Florida two years ago as a Parade All-American and the 2001 Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Florida. Dickey led Tallahassee Lincoln to two state championships. A funny thing happened on the way to stardom, however. Chris Leak arrived last year and took over the Florida offense.

The good news for the Gators is that after two consecutive offseasons filled with public debate over who should be the quarterback job, offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher must be enjoying the lack of questions. The only debate about Leak's sophomore season is whether he will challenge David Greene of Georgia to be the best quarterback in the Southeastern Conference.

"There are always questions," Zaunbrecher said with a smile. "Now it's 'Who's going to be the backup?'"

The other two scholarship quarterbacks on the Florida roster are will be sophomore Justin Midgett and Dickey, and he may not be a quarterback for long. Dickey went to Zaunbrecher after last season and asked to move to another position.

"We have two-and-a-half quarterbacks," Zaunbrecher said. "If we sign one, we'll move Gavin Dickey. We'll probably move him to safety. But if you don't have three quarterbacks, you feel naked."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.