DESTIN, Fla. — The Southeastern Conference is preparing for the possibility of recruiting reform, change the football powerhouse would rather avoid.
Commissioner Mike Slive said Wednesday the conference agreed on an early signing day model that would be presented to the Collegiate Commissioners Association if necessary.
The SEC would prefer to keep things status quo, with the signing period starting on the first Wednesday in February.
But if things change, the SEC has an idea.
The conference is essentially responding to the Atlantic Coast Conference’s desire to create an early signing period in August. The SEC wants no part of that. The conference would rather allow recruits to sign on the Monday after Thanksgiving.
“One of the other leagues proposed Aug. 1,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “We think that would be crazy. We think there would be no summer for anybody, no sanity for anybody.”
Added Greg Sankey, the SEC’s executive associate commissioner and chief operating officer: “The ACC decision is not something that was identified as a solution that was practical.”
Under the SEC model, recruits would only be eligible for the early signing date if they haven’t taken any official visits.
They would be allowed to visit after signing a national letter of intent.
For recruits wishing to take up to five official visits to various schools, they would have to wait and sign in February.
“If we can clean up some of the things around the edges, meaning there’s a lot of kids that know where they want to go and don’t want to go through the process of wasting all those trips, the time and expense that it takes to take five official visits,” Mississippi athletic director Ross Bjork said. “If you can sign a few kids early to focus on some of the kids you don’t have locked in, then I’m all for looking at that.”
The bottom line, though, is an early signing day would lessen the amount of time coaches spend worrying that kids would change their minds — sometimes repeatedly — in December, January and February.
“Everyone would like some sanity in that regard,” Richt said.
Some coaches, like South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, would rather keep the current system.
Arkansas’ Bret Bielema pushed for an early signing date in the summer, which likely would have made recruiting during the summer as intense an unpredictable as January.
“They don’t have an NFL draft between a player’s third and fourth year, do they?” Spurrier said. “Let them play through high school and see where we are is the smart thing. But some people like all that early signing. Some schools would sign them after their sophomore year if you’d let ‘em.”
SEC coaches agree that an early signing day after Thanksgiving would be solely for recruits who know exactly where they want to go to college and don’t need any coaxing.
“It’s the opportunity to give the student-athlete what he wants,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “
He’s committed sometimes since the ninth grade, sometimes since May, since the year before, sometimes since this June. And it’s the opportunity for them to not have to wait until February to sign.
“They know where they want to go, they’re comfortable with it. The variables are out and I am going to go to LSU, Florida, Georgia or whatever school.”
The SEC has talked about an early signing period for seven years, but never felt the need to formally finalize a potential proposal. The SEC is hoping the early signing period won’t even be on the agenda when league commissioners meet next month.
But Sankey acknowledged that there’s “mounting interest in an early signing day” in college football.
Finding common ground could be the biggest hurdle.
“I really think we’re going to have a hard time agreeing on something that’s good for everybody just because of the regions of the country,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said.
“A lot of the northern schools don’t want kids visiting in January because it’s freezing cold and they lie to them and tell them it’s really warm year-round.
“I’d be for it, but it’s something we’ve discussed a lot in my time here and I don’t think we’re ever going to agree on something nationally.”