<
>

From the old fax machine on down, many recruiting staples need changing

play
Should signing day rules change? (2:30)

Tom Luginbill and Rod Gilmore break down why modifying the rules of national signing day would have a negative effect on the student-athletes and recruiting process. (2:30)

Seven and a half months ago, inside a politically charged boardroom on the grounds of an 8,000-acre, French Renaissance-inspired, 19th century-era estate in the shadow of North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, the most powerful men in college athletics gathered to conduct business.

No one expects the commissioners of the football-playing Division I conferences to convene in a sweaty practice gym. This June meeting, though, presents an image out of touch with real-world concerns.

And by real world, we're not talking about programs in the top 20 percent of the Power 5, with their escalating millions of dollars poured into recruiting budgets and lavish facilities.

In an all-too-predictable but perhaps ironically productive move, the commissioners delayed their scheduled vote on a key recruiting issue. The entire event, in retrospect, signaled a moment -- as much as any within the muddy waters of football recruiting -- that screams clearly for a need to blow the whole thing up.

Start over. Scrap the current structure of signing day, which arrives Wednesday with its normal bluster and confusion. It's a whirlwind of activity and tons of fun, except for the little detail about how it shapes the lives of young athletes amid the craziness of a broken recruiting model.

Forget the rules about contacts, visits, communication, camps and clinics. Reconsider everything, including time-honored staples like the institutional-friendly letter of intent, so that it better reflects the current recruiting climate, complete with social media, satellite camps and sleepovers.

In order to have achieved true reform, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said, "you've got to do some things that appear drastic."

Rodriguez, nearly out of breath, was returning from a three-day trip from his base in Tucson, Arizona, to New Orleans, Oklahoma City, El Paso, San Diego, Fullerton and Chino, California, back to San Diego and then home.

Most coaches keep this kind of schedule in late stages of recruiting.

And for what? To babysit prospects long-committed and to pamper others in competition with rival schools as they ready to enter scramble mode during the final hours before signing day.

There must be a better way, mutter hundreds of coaches in a refrain heard more loudly each year.

"The more rules you add," Rodriguez said, "the more complicated it gets. So maybe you need to take a step back and just simplify it. I think we all need to take a step back."

Yes, let's step back, starting with the aforementioned commissioners, who last June tabled a proposal to establish an early signing period each December. Presumably, the 72-hour window in which prospects could sign would have eased pressure on coaches and players in January.

The proposal, in discussions before the commissioners' palatial getaway, earned the support needed to pass. But they chose to wait on a vote in order to allow time for the results of a two-year, comprehensive review of recruiting, conducted by the NCAA's Football Oversight Committee.

"You have a meeting to talk about a meeting that you're going to have a meeting," said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald of the recruiting culture in general. "Nothing gets done. My hope is that we move forward."

The commissioners' decision in June might well have been the right one. But on whose watch did we arrive at this point that seemingly logical progress must wait two years because, well, the whole system is dysfunctional.

"I haven't dug into the research enough to know what the right thing is to do," Houston coach Tom Herman said, "but there's got to be a way to regulate the decommitments."

Blow the whole thing up. And in the reconstruction phase, no issue would carry more importance than the signing date or dates.

The current configuration cultivates indecision and rewards attention-seekers. Here are two alternatives:

  • Keep intact the signing period that runs from the first Wednesday in February until April 1, but add a few other dates. The three days in December are fine, but why not 24 hours in November and another day in August? How about all of them?

  • Sign whenever you're ready. Credit Youngstown State's Bo Pelini with this idea. The former Nebraska coach mentioned it several years ago, and others in the business started listening in 2014. The concept sounded wild at first, but it could eliminate more mayhem than it would create.

Under this plan, you've got no more scholarship offers for eighth- and ninth-graders, unless, as a coach, you're willing to sign those kids to binding agreements. So much for the epidemic of decommitments, which can accumulate to derail a program's recruiting plan. If you don't sign, you're not committed.

"It almost makes too much sense," Rodriguez said.

Fitzgerald likes the idea, too. "The devil would be in the details," he said.

The Northwestern coach supports a concept that would allow a school to file an offer to an online database, after which time the prospect must wait 48 hours to sign.

"Maybe it makes sense," Fitzgerald said. "Maybe it doesn't. I don't know, but those are the types of discussions that I think need to be had."

Or reassess the letter of intent altogether. An argument exists that recruits would benefit if offered the chance to sign only scholarship papers, as elite linebacker Roquan Smith did last year in addition several notable recent midyear enrollees.

With any change to signing day, official visits would likely require an adjustment. The entire recruiting calendar, in fact, would need major revision.

Reform is needed, said Nevada coach Brian Polian, formerly an assistant at Notre Dame, Stanford and Texas A&M.

"But I'm not comfortable in leaving the recruiting calendar in the hands of the top 25 teams in the country," Polian said "They're not dealing with reality."

But what is reality? It's not the commissioners, retreating to a boardroom at the Biltmore Estate.

Maybe the Football Oversight Committee, which reports to the powerful NCAA Division I Council, will offer a dose of reality next year in its review of recruiting. Perhaps its members will agree with a growing number of coaches that the current recruiting structure is a model of inefficiency.

If so, then just maybe, battling factions of the football community can agree it's time for real change that benefits the right parties -- the players, high school coaches and college assistants who pour their lives into recruiting for months every year.

"I don't think it's that hard," Fitzgerald said, "but you've got to be willing to look at the big picture."

For now, that picture remains fuzzy.