On Dec. 20, 2016, Bob Diaco was the head coach at UConn, Tracy Claeys was at Minnesota, P.J. Fleck was preparing Western Michigan for the Cotton Bowl and Sonny Dykes was still Cal's head coach. A few dozen 2017 recruits were committed to the four programs, many of whom would've signed letters of intent and shut down their recruitment if the college football early signing period rule existed at the time.
Within three weeks, Diaco, Claeys and Dykes were fired and Fleck voluntarily left for Minnesota.
The Collegiate Commissioners Association (CCA), a group of commissioners who oversee the National Letter of Intent program, approved a 72-hour early signing period for college football recruits. In April, the NCAA Division-I Council approved the period, which will begin immediately in 2017 (Dec. 20-22), but they needed the CCA's go-ahead to enact the legislation.
Though the move was mostly applauded by FBS athletic directors, coaches, and recruiting analysts, it does present issues — among them late-season coaching changes, pulled offers, and an overlapping bowl schedule.
“I feel bad for that team,” Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi said of teams that fire or lose their coach and don't have a new one in place by Dec. 20.
“Maybe even the first two years people are going to get used to it," said Florida head coach Jim McElwain on Tuesday. "It’s like any rule change. You’re going to see some of the pitfalls and see some of the good things with it, and yet I think time will tell."
There are 20 first-year head coaches in the FBS this year, 15 of whom were introduced two weeks before Dec. 20, or later. Because teams rarely make coaching changes after the only current signing period in February, they are seldom in a position of obligation to release a recruit from his letter of intent, an issue that arises annually with basketball's early period. Basketball recruits might sign during early period (Nov. 9-16, 2016) but are released after a coaching change, as was the case with top-overall prospect Michael Porter Jr. who signed with Washington before they fired head coach Lorenzo Romar in March.
Also of concern is a 2017 bowl schedule that includes 16 games within four days of the early period and three between Dec. 20-22:
|Dec. 16||New Orleans||Conference USA vs. Sun Belt|
|Dec. 16||Cure||American vs. Sun Belt|
|Dec. 16||Las Vegas||Mountain West vs. Pac-12|
|Dec. 16||New Mexico||Conference USA vs. Mountain West|
|Dec. 16||Camellia||MAC vs. Sun Belt|
|Dec. 19||Boca Raton||American vs. Conference USA|
|Dec. 21||St. Petersburg||American vs. Conference USA|
|Dec. 22||Bahamas||Conference USA vs. MAC|
|Dec. 22||Famous Idaho Potato||MAC vs. Mountain West|
|Dec. 23||Birmingham||American vs. SEC|
|Dec. 23||Armed Forces||Big Ten vs. Army|
|Dec. 23||Dollar General||MAC vs. Sun Belt|
|Dec. 24||Hawaii||American vs. Mountain West|
|Dec. 26||Cactus||Big 12 vs. Pac-12|
|Dec. 26||Quick Lane||Big Ten vs. ACC/Notre Dame|
|Dec. 26||Heart of Dallas||Big Ten vs. Conference USA|
Timing isn't great and coaching and support staffs will be stretched thin, but recruiting analyst Brian Perroni of 247Sports doesn't expect it to be an issue, largely because it's a recruiting dead period in recruiting. Last year's dead period ran Dec. 11, 2016, through Jan. 11, 2017, during which coaches are not allowed face-to-face contact with recruits or their parents, and can't visit student-athletes' high school or watch them competes. They may, however, call recruits or their parents and send letters and text messages.
"Even during bowl prep in years past, coaches have still work the phones and done their best to keep up with the recruits since it is getting down to crunch time," Perroni told HERO Sports. "I imagine that most prospects that sign early will have had their minds made up for some time already. The ones that still need babysitting or to be recruited heavily won't sign until February, so I don't see the bowl games affecting them."
It is still unknown how many players will sign early and how it will affect recruiting. Jacob Phillips, the nation's 29th-ranked prospect in the 2017 class who flipped from Oklahoma to LSU in January, said it would've changed a lot, including him landing at Oklahoma instead.
"To be honest, I would have probably signed early," Phillips told The Tennessean. "Coaches put a lot of pressure on you . . . I would have definitely signed with Oklahoma."
"I don't think this will change much on the school side of things," adds Perroni. "I do wonder what will happen to committed players that don't sign. Will they be cut loose if they are not five-star prospects?"
Last week, Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, blasted Minnesota and Iowa State for making too many scholarship offers, which can result in pulled offers if players don't immediately accept — or starting in 2017, don't sign during the early period.
"The guys in Ames and the new guy in Minneapolis seem to have no problem throwing early things out. What I’ve learned, certainly about the guys in Ames, we’ll find out about the guys in Minneapolis, what does an offer really mean?" Ferentz said on Hawk Central's podcast.
According to 247Sports, the Cyclones have made 329 offers to 2018 prospects; the Gophers have 210; and the Cyclones have 98.
“I can tell you this much, if the University of Iowa offers you a scholarship and you commit to us, we intend to sign you and we intend to take your commitment. I think you have to look no further than in-state to see there were a lot of offers that went out in the 2018 class very early out of Ames. And I’m not sure all of those guys were able to commit to them if they wanted to, because some of those guys have since gone other places.”
Is Ferentz right to worry about pulled offers? Will the early signing period alleviate some of the pressure on both programs and prospects? Will athletic directors pull the trigger on coaching changes immediately after the regular season? Will bowl games impact recruiting?
College football is entering unchartered, question-filled territory.