For years, Brian Kelly has publicly supported the addition of an early signing period for high school prospects.
In April, the eighth-year Notre Dame head coach finally got his wish.
The NCAA Division I Council recently approved changes to a number of aspects of college football, most notably the recruiting model. Beginning Aug. 1, 2017, a new early signing period will go into place for December, coinciding with the previous date for junior college prospects to sign. The previous early February signing date will stay as is.
The addition of a signing period means that juniors will be able to start taking official visits — paid for by the school — on April 1 of their junior year rather than Sept. 1 of the prospect’s senior year.
“We feel as though that this is a positive thing,” Kelly said. “I do, personally. I like the fact that we can get juniors up here in April through June to see our beautiful campus and the great weather that we have here in South Bend. April through June is great months to have our own visitors, not just rely on home games. Those are great things from our perspective.
Previously, Notre Dame’s official visits have been primarily for home football games and post-season weekends. Early-season games can showcase the school’s campus and warm weather, but late-season contests and December and January weekends are generally colder and less conducive to wowing prospective athletes.
The change is ideal for northern schools like Notre Dame, who can now pay for recruits to visit in the spring and summer. But southern programs like Alabama, Florida and Texas — which have better weather year-round — take a hit with the new rules.
An early signing period has long been in effect for basketball, giving prospects an opportunity to sign with a college near the beginning of their senior season.
Kelly said he isn’t sure how Notre Dame’s class will unfold when it comes to signing day. Will some players wait until February to make it official, or will the majority of the class sign in December? An early signing period bumps up against bowl season, making it a hectic time on the college football calendar.
“Who knows how that will eventually play out,” Kelly said. “Will you have all your early commitments signed? Who knows. We’re not necessarily counting on that. Some may choose to do that, but it allows us another resource to be pointed towards those that are not (yet signed) because we’re coast-to-coast (recruiting).
“We’re going from L.A. to New Jersey. Any one less trip for a coach to go coast-to-coast to focus on a particular kid that’s not committed is a resource well-served.”
Other coaches, like Georgia’s Kirby Smart, are not a fan of the early signing period.
“What I see happening is you’ll be seeing the guys who are truly committed less,” Smart said. “They’re going to sign in December so they’re going to be the most consistent commitments, for 12 months or however long it is, will be locked up.
“People think it’s going to cut down on cost. But you’re not going to spend less because you’re doing that, you’re going to see somebody else. You’re going to see the last 10 guys to get. You’re going to see the next 2019, 2020 kids more,” Smart said. “So, you’re going to do something with that time, but you’re not going to do what we call babysit a recruit. That’s how it will affect it but it will speed up the process on other kids.”
No More Two-A-Days
In addition to a new signing period, the NCAA voted to eliminate the longstanding tradition of two-a-day practices.
The NCAA is allowing schools to have a padded practice and a walk-through practice (no pads) instead of two padded practices.
“The Council’s action reinforces our commitment to the health and safety of our student-athletes,” said NCAA Council chair Jim Phillips, athletics director at Northwestern. “We continue to be guided by the recommendations from medical professionals, coaches and administrators and the strong support for discontinuing two contact practices in the same day.”
Notre Dame held four two-a-days last fall with varying degrees of padded work. Kelly said he has no problem with the elimination of two-a-days.
“No doubles, not a big deal,” Kelly said. “I’m good with that, you can get plenty of work done in that timeframe.”
According to research cited by the NCAA, practices with tackling are more likely to cause a concussion than practices that don’t include tackling. Additionally, the decision allows for appropriate recovery time to prevent both heat illness and overuse injuries.
The elimination of two-a-days comes just months after the NCAA voted to allow football preseason practices to begin a week earlier than previous years. That allows schools to best decided how to manage the 29 preseason workouts.
10th Assistant Delayed
When former Notre Dame quarterback Tom Rees was hired in January to coach the Irish quarterbacks, it was under the assumption that the NCAA would pass legislation allowing a 10th assistant coach.
The NCAA did approve a new 10th coach, though not for this season. That will go into effect in January, meaning Rees will coach the 2017 season as a graduate assistant.
Rees, 24, is allowed to perform the full duties of a full-time Irish assistant with the exception of off-campus recruiting. He can still contact recruits by phone and social media.
“My role is not going to change regardless of the title,” Rees shortly after he was hired. “I’m here to coach the quarterbacks. … That’s why I came here. I wanted the fulfillment of, ‘Hey, I get to meet with those quarterbacks, I get to prepare them, I get to coach them, I get to build that relationship.’"