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Some college football coaches clamor for early signing period

By the time signing day arrives, Plant High quarterback Aaron Murray already will have begun taking classes at Georgia.


By the time signing day arrives, Plant High quarterback Aaron Murray already will have begun taking classes at Georgia.

Like many in his profession, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz equates recruiting with courtships.

Eye someone you like, make initial contact then labor to give a favorable first impression. Have them to your place for a nice dinner and some liberal helpings of charm. Over time, you might get the proverbial promise ring in the form of an oral commitment.

Thing is, Ferentz isn't big on talk, or even long engagements. Neither, it seems, are many of his colleagues. He wants a more tangible avowal. A binding betrothal (ceremony optional).

Sign now or forever hold your peace.

He wants an early signing period for football.

"It gives us as coaches a way to find out if we're really married with the recruits that are committed," Ferentz said recently while in Tampa for the Outback Bowl, "or if we're just going to hold hands."

Nationally, that sentiment seems to be gaining steam. Instead of one regular signing period, which annually commences on the first Wednesday of February, many coaches are clamoring to implement an early one — say, in December, late November or even earlier. Nearly all other sports, baseball and basketball included, have one.

"I've got a feeling that a majority of our coaches want that," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said.

At the SEC meetings in May, the league's coaches voted 9-3 to add a signing date for late November, only to see it rejected (by an unspecified margin) in a vote of school presidents and athletic directors two days later. Yet the issue is far from flatlined.

Bowden would like an early signing date, though only a week or so earlier. South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, once outspoken against the idea, now seems in favor of it. So does Oklahoma's Bob Stoops. The base of support is sprawling.

The case for

Signing a player in the late fall would free a school from spending time and resources "babysitting" that recruit until February. As it stands, a high school senior can make a nonbinding commitment in November but still be recruited by other schools until national signing day.

"At least if committed players had the opportunity to sign in December … it's not something they would have to do," Ferentz said. "But at least that gives them a chance to declare, 'Hey, I truly am committed.' And if they're not, that's fine, too."

Others cite the evolution of recruiting in general. A cursory look at any national recruiting list reveals many major programs already have 12 to 20 oral commitments who chose their school after making "unofficial" visits over the summer.

Several of those already have enrolled after graduating high school early. When signing day arrives Feb. 4, Plant High quarterback Aaron Murray will have been attending classes at Georgia for a month.

"There's more and more reason with more and more kids coming in early, graduating early and are ready for the (spring) semester," Stoops said during the week of the BCS national title game. "Hopefully, we'll be moving closer to it."

Yet that hope has been repeatedly stonewalled.

The case against

At the SEC spring meetings, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley posed a scenario in which a player signs with School X in late November only to see the coach fired at season's end.

Gators coach Urban Meyer declined to discuss the issue during the week of the BCS championship but was among the three coaches (with Spurrier and Arkansas' Bobby Petrino) who voted against the proposal.

At that time, Meyer said an early date might not afford coaches ample time to familiarize themselves with recruits.

"I'm not comfortable signing kids you don't know," he said.

Other opponents say some recruits might not have taken — much less passed — a college-entrance exam by an early signing period. Bowden echoes the opinion of many colleagues when he says an early period would detract from the season itself.

"You're so busy with games, you can't give the kid the attention you'd like to," he said.

At the prep level, coaches couldn't promote their players for the same reason.

"Early signing period? I'm going to say no because that's another thing I'd have to get ready for during the season," said Armwood coach Sean Callahan, whose team has played December playoff games in five of the past six seasons. "For me, I think it would be more of a hassle for the coach."

For Hillsborough High's Earl Garcia, the hassle is now smack in the middle of the academic year. In recent years, things have gotten so hectic around his place — DVDs of highlights to burn, academic transcripts to assemble, recruiters to entertain on campus and, ahem, classes to teach — he has designated one of his assistants as a "recruiting coordinator."

He'd love to see a lot of this process taken care of during the summer.

An early signing date is "absolutely crucial; got to happen," Garcia said. "I don't understand why it hasn't happened. We're the only sport that doesn't have it."

Times staff writer Brian Landman contributed to this report.

Times Blue Chip player of the year

QB Aaron Murray, Plant

Size: 6 feet 1, 205 pounds

High school: In only 21 games as a starter, Murray threw for nearly 6,300 yards. His 84 touchdown passes eclipsed Stephen Garcia's career record for Hillsborough County. Ideal for a pro-style offense, he's an inch or two undersized but compensates with intelligence (1,180 SAT score), shiftiness, good feet, arm strength and — as the world learned in December — courage. He appeared done for the season after breaking his left fibula against Hillsborough in mid October but returned for the Panthers' final two playoff games. In the last, a 34-14 win against Tallahassee Lincoln in the Class 4A title game, he passed for 344 yards and three touchdowns.

College: Murray committed to Georgia in April, graduated from Plant early and enrolled earlier this month. "It's just like he's been there forever," his mother, Lauren, said. "He acclimated almost immediately." With record-setting Bulldog Matthew Stafford declaring for the NFL draft, Murray could challenge senior Joe Cox for the starting job.

What they're saying on an early signing period

"Some people are concerned that when you have coaching transitions, it might really disadvantage schools changing coaches. That's one of the arguments against it, and that's fair. In terms of for doing it, if a young man knows what he wants to do, it gets it over with officially. And from the school's standpoint, financial and time-management standpoint, the coaches don't have to continue to recruit a player."

John Swofford, ACC commissioner

"At one time, we were against that, but now most coaches sort of favor that. If they had one in late December, I think most coaches would be for that because so many players have committed."

Steve Spurrier, South Carolina coach

"I guess the greatest argument I heard for not doing it is that it will accelerate the recruiting process. And whoever came up with that theory has got to be living in a cave because if we accelerate this thing any more, we're going to be recruiting eighth-graders, which I think we're getting close to."

Kirk Ferentz, Iowa coach

Some college football coaches clamor for early signing period 01/17/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 19, 2009 4:34pm]
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