From pick-the-hat ceremonies to ticket-holder parties, national signing day has become the focal point of the college football offseason.
Football fans might eventually have to update their calendars.
Between a sped-up recruiting process and drawn-out coaching changes, the NCAA's Division I football recruiting subcommittee has explored the idea of tweaking signing day from its early February position.
"It is an item that the football coaches have put on our radar as a topic requiring additional discussion," said Kirby Hocutt, the subcommittee's chairman and the athletic director at Texas Tech.
As the Feb. 5 signing day approaches, the Tampa Bay Times spoke with Hocutt — the former athletic director at Miami — about two calendar changes that would drastically alter recruiting.
Adding an early signing period has been discussed for at least a decade. Most other NCAA sports have one in December and another three months later.
In 2012, 21 of the 26 football programs that responded to an unscientific survey by the Times were in favor of adding an early signing day.
A mid-December date to coincide with the period for junior college transfers would have two main advantages, Hocutt said. Coaches wouldn't have to spend their time and resources re-recruiting a player who won't stray. And legacy players or long-time fans of a program could end the process sooner and stop being pestered by other coaches and recruiting analysts.
"In those cases where a young man is 100 percent convinced they want to go to a certain university, and they do not want to take any other visits … I do think there are advantages to letting that person go ahead and do it in the month of December," Hocutt said.
Six of the Times' top 25 senior prospects accomplished that by finishing high school early to enroll in January.
But an early period also has enough disadvantages to keep Hocutt's subcommittee from formally recommending a change to the conference commissioners who make the final decision.
A December signing date could bleed into the end of the high school season and distract from state championship runs. College coaching changes could make signings messy, and some coaches fear it could speed up the recruiting process even more.
"Would it have a negative impact on a young person to make a decision before they are completely ready to make it?" Hocutt said.
Push it back
Hocutt's committee has discussed an early period, but the Times' other idea — to push the current period back — is much more radical.
Major college football has averaged 24 coaching changes over the past three years — five more than from 2005 to 2011. Almost five searches per year stretch into the pivotal recruiting month of January.
Vanderbilt and UAB didn't have head coaches when the final contact period began Jan. 16, and the Commodores' recruiting staff was down to four assistants, according to the Tennessean. That led two local Vandy commits — Armwood safety Kyle Gibson and Gaither defensive back Amani Oruwariye — to reopen their recruitment less than three weeks before signing day.
"Any way you look at it, those are challenging times in a lot of different scenarios," Hocutt said of coaching changes. "And the recruiting process with signing that year's class is always going to be one of those."
Those challenging times can have long-lasting consequences. Five schools — New Mexico State, Syracuse, Florida International, Oregon and Nevada — made coaching changes in January 2012. Of the 107 players those programs signed, 24 percent weren't on their rosters a year later.
One potential solution would be to model a new recruiting calendar off of basketball, with one period in the late fall and another in April. An early signing day would let truly committed prospects end their recruitment when they're ready, and the later period would give players more time to think once the coaching carousel stops spinning.
Hocutt said the subcommittee has never discussed the idea and that it would force the NCAA to overhaul its calendar of quiet, dead and evaluation periods.
"It's my understanding that our coaches are very satisfied with the current recruiting calendar and the signing day period as it exists now," Hocutt said.
Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected]