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Murphy: Early signing period needed for college football
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Signing scholarship a milestone for players

Last-second drama surrounding National Signing Day may be a lot of fun for college football fans to watch but it’s entirely unnecessary. Waiting anxiously to see which school an 18-year old football star is going to choose may be the equivalent of a soap opera for grown men, but there’s a solution to take all the suspense out of this entirely overhyped process: an early signing period.

That’s right, give football players the same liberties other college athletes have. Let them sign a letter of intent with their desired school during a designated period, skirting the traditional National Signing Day entirely. It’s a proposition that makes sense. Basketball players can sign almost five months before the traditional signing period in mid April.

College football’s National Signing Day may be getting a little too big for its purpose. The University of Georgia’s signing day crowds get bigger and bigger each year at the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall just to wait for pieces of paper to come across a fax machine.

With an early signing period, football players can go ahead and put an end to endless text messages and phone calls with a stroke of the pen. College coaches can also benefit knowing early which players are on board, and which ones they still have work to do with.

Before you get too excited about this idea, let me make one thing clear, it isn’t going to happen any time soon. This hot-button issue was voted down in January by a 17-4 vote by conference commissioners, despite the support of approximately 73 percent of FBS coaches, says American Football Coaches Association executive director Grant Teaff.

"As far as I can tell this issue of an early signing period is DOA for now," said Teaff, a 21-year coaching veteran at Baylor. "I’m not hearing any gnashing of teeth over it either."

It’s really too bad the idea didn’t get off the ground. An early signing period is a win-win situation for players, coaches and schools involved. The most widely circulated version of an early signing period for football centered around letting players sign at the end of the high school fall semester and the start of the bowl season, probably the third week of December. Schools could go ahead and sign players that were verbally committed before and not have to waste any more time or financial resources keeping them happy, while other schools are still in their ears. Once the early signing period is over, schools would then have approximately five more weeks before the official National Signing Day to round out the rest of its signing class.

That final five week sprint of the recruiting period could be completely devoted by coaches to making visits to the rest of the senior prospects that are still on the fence with where they want to go to school. They could cut out wasting time sending text messages to the athletes and calling the high school coach on a player that already knows where they want to go to school.

In these tough economic times, an early signing period would save schools money by cutting out unnecessary visits to schools scattered all over the country. It seems like letting football players sign with a desired school earlier saves a lot of headaches on all ends of the recruiting process.

However, there are those that are opposed to the early signing period, and were clearly the backbone to why the idea didn’t become a reality. The most compelling argument I heard against the early signing period goes something like this: what happens if a player signs to play with a school before the bowl season, the coaching staff he signed to play for is fired and then has a legitimate change of heart before National Signing Day? If that player had waited until February to sign, then he wouldn’t have been put into such a bind.

This scenario played out this season when Miami offensive coordinator Patrick Nix was axed after their bowl game. Lots of high school players sign with a school to play for a specific coordinator, maybe that’s the coach that was recruiting them all along. If a player signed early and the coaches were fired, would they be allowed clearance to keep searching for another school?

That’s the best argument that I’ve heard against an early signing period. Still, I think giving kids a chance to sign early helps eliminate some of the high drama with such an inexact science.

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