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Wednesday, May 28, 2008
SEC coaches hoping for early signing day in late November

By Chris Low
ESPN.com

DESTIN, Fla. -- If the majority of SEC head football coaches have their way, the recruiting period will be split into two different signing days.

The coaches voted by a 9-3 count Wednesday at the SEC spring meetings to add an early signing day in late November. This 24-hour period for prospects to sign early would fall on the Monday before the contact period begins, which during a normal year would come during the week of Thanksgiving.

The next step is for the SEC's athletic directors and presidents to sign off on the proposal and then sponsor it on a national level. Most of the coaches agree that it would probably be at least a year before an early signing day would go into effect, and that's assuming the proposal passes.

"I certainly think it makes sense," Kentucky's Rich Brooks said. "But I've seen a 12-0 vote by the coaches before on certain things, and it never passed. So we'll see."

The three coaches who voted against the early signing day were Arkansas' Bobby Petrino, Florida's Urban Meyer and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier.

"I think recruiting should be done in December, January and February," Meyer said. "I think it speeds up 17- and 18-year-olds to make a decision that affects the rest of their lives. To squeeze them, to press them, to say you've got to get it done now and I just don't believe in that.

"My daughter is going through recruiting right now. If someone ever does that to her, it's going to be a tough phone call. Take your time. Take your trips."

A year ago, the SEC coaches voted 9-3 against adding an early signing day. But the new proposal includes some specific language that swayed several coaches to vote in favor of it this year. In particular, any prospect that has already made an official visit to a school would be precluded from signing early.

"The majority of the coaches do not want to change the culture of the season as it is right now," Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom said. "This allows kids to sign early where we don't have to continually recruit a kid who wants to sign, but still not change the process from what it already is. We're totally opposed to any other [early] signing day other than the way we have it worded."

The current signing day for football falls on the first Wednesday in February.

One of the reasons most of the SEC coaches favor an early signing period is because so many prospects commit early and then hold everybody hostage as they look around in January and February.

Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer at one time opposed an early signing period because he felt it would be a disadvantage for the Vols in that they do so much national recruiting.

"But as recruiting has continued to move up, there's really no reason you can't get some of the guys off the board and not have to spend that time and money babysitting kids the entire month of January," Fulmer said.

Croom points out many more prospects are already taking unofficial visits during the summer and fall months. The SEC's new proposal would allow prospects to continue taking unofficial visits where they pay their own way and still be eligible to sign early.

But if a prospect takes an official visit, one that's paid for by a school, he would be locked into having to sign in February.

"He can take all the unofficial visits he wants," Croom said. "They're already doing it. That was our point. A lot of these kids have gone on unofficial visits. They've seen the academic counselor. They've seen everything there is to see. They want to get the signing out of the way. If we can get that out of the way, now we don't have to go and call that kid every day and go to his high school every week. We can be recruiting somebody else."

Petrino's argument against the early signing day is that the Razorbacks have to do so much of their recruiting outside the state.

"Guys in favor of it have 40, 50 or 60 Division I players in their state," Petrino said. "We have to go out and battle and go on the road and recruit every state."

Spurrier's beef is that another signing day would only take away from the actual season, especially with so many fans clamoring for any morsal of recruiting information they can get their hands on.

Alabama's Nick Saban, still peeved about head coaches being taken off the road during the spring recruiting period, likes the proposal. But he also knows it will still be scrutinized.

"All coaches seem to be paranoid, and they're all worried about what the other guy is going to do," said Saban, who's gotten around the spring rule by using video conferencing to talk with prospects. "So everybody is going to have to go back and digest how this affects them and who has the greatest advantage.

"The rules are all the same for everybody. So whether it's an advantage to Georgia because they've got a lot of players in state, or Florida, because they have a lot of players in state & I'd just as soon they get them out of the way so we can go get the other guys. I see it as an advantage for us, too. Everybody knows I'm crazy, thinks I'm crazy. So what I think doesn't really matter."

Chris Low is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to him at espnclow@aol.com.