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Commentary: Time for national signing day to get the ax

Armwood defensive end Byron Cowart, center, dons a Auburn hat on  Feb. 4, 2015. But Cowart endured national scrutiny when he didn't fax his paperwork until almost seven hours later, prompting many to wonder if he'd had a change of heart. (James Borchuck, Times)

Armwood defensive end Byron Cowart, center, dons a Auburn hat on Feb. 4, 2015. But Cowart endured national scrutiny when he didn't fax his paperwork until almost seven hours later, prompting many to wonder if he'd had a change of heart. (James Borchuck, Times)

Offensive tackle recruit Erik Swenson stood by his oral commitment to Michigan for more than two years, remaining loyal to the Wolverines through a 5-7 season, a coaching change and pushes by programs like Alabama and Wisconsin.

In exchange for 26 months of rare recruiting loyalty, Michigan pulled his offer last week. That gave Swenson, of Downers Grove, Ill., two weeks to find a new school before Wednesday's national signing day.

The buildup to signing day usually includes unfortunate stories like Swenson's. A year ago, Tennessee did the same thing to East Bay High defensive end Marques Ford, forcing him to scramble before signing with Rutgers. There's a reason the most common emotion players feel on signing day isn't joy. It's relief.

There's one radical but simple way to prevent these stories and fix many of the other problems plaguing recruiting.

Get rid of signing day altogether.

Instead of prospects across the country all signing on the first Wednesday in February, let them sign with college programs anytime during their senior year. This change will clear up a recruiting landscape filled with uncommittable offers and unreliable commitments.

Coaches will only hand out offers they're willing to accept. That means players won't need to worry about a scholarship offer being rescinded and having to restart the recruiting process.

Players won't give soft commitments that change weeks later. That means coaches won't need to worry about losing a player and restocking a position on short notice.

If a player knows his dream school in August, there's no reason to make him wait until February to end the recruiting process. Once he signs, he can stop fielding a flurry of phone calls from other coaching staffs or recruiting analysts. His future school won't have to waste precious time and resources re-recruiting him to ward off rivals.

If a player isn't ready to sign in the fall, he doesn't have to. The celebratory cake will taste as good in March as it would have in September.

Elite talents can sort through their offers carefully instead of feeling pressured with a deadline. A confused recruit will be able to waver without facing the kind of national scrutiny Armwood High's Byron Cowart endured last year in the seven-hour impasse before he signed with Auburn.

An unhappy parent won't have to confiscate a recruit's paperwork, as the mother of South Plantation running back Alex Collins did three years ago. They can take the time to talk through their concerns privately.

Eliminating signing day helps the recruits outside the top tier, too. A late bloomer hoping for a big-name offer might not want to sign immediately with a smaller program. This model allows him to monitor how many scholarships remain available at both programs until he's ready to decide.

The NCAA's recruiting rules would need only minor changes, and the proposal doesn't have to extend beyond football.

The current dead periods would remain the same, but juniors could take official visits so both sides can make informed decisions. Players won't have to wait until their senior year to get an up-close view of the program, and coaches could make earlier in-person evaluations that go beyond speed and size.

The letter of intent would be binding for four years but add a few reasonable exceptions. A school can drop a player if he fails to qualify academically or breaks the law. A player can opt out because of a family emergency, a coaching change or NCAA trouble at the school. If they mutually agree the deal simply isn't working, a signature from each side would void it.

The importance of signing day is already slipping. The 12 prospects who have already started classes at Florida will make up about half of the Gators' entire recruiting class. Florida State's seven mid-year enrollees won't need a ceremony next week, either. And four recruits have had non-binding financial aid agreements with Miami since August.

So get rid of the event entirely. End the charade of false offers and commitments that surface every February. Instead of months of uncertainty and stress, let recruits enjoy something much sweeter.

That celebratory cake — whenever they're ready.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

Commentary: Time for national signing day to get the ax 01/29/16 [Last modified: Friday, January 29, 2016 9:43pm]
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