The NCAA’s Division I Council approved a proposed rule change to Recruiting and National Signing Day. That proposal will now go to the Conference Commissioners Association to give final approval in June.
So what do the new rules mean? Well, the current signing day, America's fourth major holiday, the first Wednesday in February won't change, but a three day window will be added for signings in December. So far there's been little opposition to the proposal, so chances are it passes the Commissioners Association in June.
First a little perceptive on letters of intent and national signing day.
Prior to 1981, conferences held their own individual signing days at different times during the year. In 1981 the Commissioners Association regulated the signing period to the current format. Back in the old days, you could sign kids whenever you wanted to. It was the wild west with schools even luring athletes away from colleges and universities even though those students were already enrolled. Back then street agents were commonplace, working on behalf of big money donors and universities to poach top talent for a price. Coaches often resorted to hiding or secreting players in hotels or off campus to prevent poaching.
The "Letter of Intent" program was created in 1964 by a group of seven conferences, chaired by J. William Davis, a retired professor and faculty athletics representative at Texas Tech. The program was created to helped to stop some of the shady practices. Some of them. Paying players certainly didn't stop, but the practice of driving around opposing campuses with bags of money slowed down.
So what do the new rules mean? Who do these new dates benefit? Who knows. Speculation abounds including the idea that non-traditional powers will benefit immensely from the earlier date. Those schools can identify, recruit, and secure signature from players on the earlier date. That way those classes can't be poached by the Power 5 meanies who are naturally lazy and wait until February to do any work. Sure.
Nothing prevents a high school prospect from waiting until February to sign. Actually nothing prevents him from waiting longer. He just runs the risk his spot won't be there for him. If you're a three star prospect like Lake Travis' Charlie Brewer, and you believe that a P-5 is going to offer you at some point, it doesn't do you any good to sign in December. Brewer committed to SMU early, but Baylor swooped in during January's recruiting period and secured his commitment. I think a lot of athletes outside of that elite echelon wait as well, rather than get locked in.
The Group of 5 school's response may be to threaten to pull offers if players don't sign in December. The hesitation being an indication that their commitment is "soft" or that they are waiting for a better offer. I doubt that G-5s take that approach and cut their own throats by taking a hardline approach. Some players will go ahead and sign because recruiting, the bombardment of letters, texts, tweets, etc tends to be a grind at some point and signing is the equivalent of the safe word to end things. In that way it benefits everyone.
A few examples of how the new dates could/will really impact classes come from recent history and academic considerations. Charlie Strong's top 10 2016 class came about because everyone, and we mean everyone, committed on National Signing Day. The theory is that Strong's recruits were secret commitments who spent the last few weeks of the recruiting period going undercover to persuade other top players to attend. This also served to drag other schools along, spending resources and time to recruit kids who weren't ever coming. The early signing period probably changes that class dramatically. Some of those top ranked players probably sign somewhere else, or they just sign with Texas early.
The other impactful area this probably has an effect on are academic considerations. For example, schools like Rice, Stanford, and Northwestern can't take student athletes who don't qualify so they at times have to wait until later in the process to ensure acceptance. Do those "marginal" recruits sign elsewhere? Maybe. The service academies, that require nominations from certain political representatives, could be effected as well.
True academically marginal recruits could be effected the most. The highly regarded recruit will always find a home, even if academics take a while longer to sort out. However, players that are both academically marginal and two or three star prospects could see their options restricted the longer their qualifying remains in doubt. That puts the onus on high school coaches and counselors to get these kids moving towards qualification early or point them to other options like prep schools or Junior Colleges.
Ultimately the new dates will help a handful of Power-5 schools who aren't elite by allowing them to hold onto their recruits. Kansas for example has been shockingly successful this recruiting cycle with some very talented high school recruits. Can they hold those commitments for a year? Probably not. Will the new rules help them close the deal on some of those commitments before the February signing period? Yes.
We'll wait to see if the new signing period actually passes, we think it will. More importantly, we'll have to see how these new rules change the recruiting process and who actually benefits.