The payoff period
The spring signing period in basketball has turned into a circus. From the drama of what image was carved into the back of Nerlens Noel's head to the high-stakes decisions of Shabazz Muhammad, John Wall and so on, the past few springs have brought the drama.
But I'll level with you, the early signing period is a different story. It is not the most enlightening or entertaining day of the year. Why? Simple. On the basketball side, we don't (or at least not yet) deal with "soft commitments." Do we have our share of decommitments? Of course, but we don't have committed kids taking endless visits and parading around like they're going to one place while just enjoying the trappings of a visit on another campus. Most of the guys who actually sign during the early period have been committed for weeks, if not months. The suspense factor on signing day isn't there, unless you count the school's sports information director hanging out in the head coach's office waiting for the news so he can finally send out a press release.
The great thing about the basketball early signing period, though, is that it's the culmination of a series of long courtships. In basketball, recruiting is more intimate than that of our football counterparts. Mike Krzyzewski might see a kid play 20 times over the course of his high school career. Let me know the first time Nick Saban visits a kid double-digit times. For kids with dreams of playing college basketball, the first signing period is a finish line moment in their careers. Signing on the dotted line early allows them to put a chapter behind them and concentrate on their high school team, their senior seasons and winning a championship. If you're signed, you've got peace of mind. And for the rest of college basketball, it's the perfect chance to take a breath, celebrate the next wave of potential stars and get on with the season.
What's not to love about college football's national signing day?
Just when the nation needs a football fix in the wake of the Super Bowl, it's there. Some four weeks after the national champion is crowned, when fans wake up in a cold sweat -- too far removed yet from spring to feel the warmth of offseason practice -- it's there.
The first Wednesday of February is practically a national holiday. All eyes and webcams trained to fax machines in football offices as college programs count the fruits of their labor over the past months and years.In places like Tuscaloosa and Tallahassee, South Bend and South Beach, signing day is revered as the end to the recruiting season, which takes a backseat only to the football season itself -- and often by just a slight margin.
Everyone dreams big on signing day. Coaches who can't buy a win in September, October and November score key victories on signing day. There are no recruiting busts in February.
Advances in scouting have removed some of the unpredictability with the ever-increasing exposure devoted to football recruiting. Sure, an element of volatility remains, for better or worse. But whether it's Jadeveon Clowney or De'Anthony Thomas or Manti Te'o, many of the elite players in the college game made headlines on signing day.
Looking for instant gratification? Alabama signed the No. 1 class last year. True freshman stars Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon figured prominently in that. Who will it be this year? Perhaps Robert Nkemdiche or Ricky Seals-Jones will own the day. No matter the recruits on center stage, signing day guarantees to captivate the followers of every major program in unison like few other times -- if any -- on the calendar.