The end of a National Signing Day era as we know it might have occurred this month.
When the NCAA Division I Council meets April 13-14, two main measures will be up for approval. One is adding a 10th full-time football on-field assistant coach to the staff, which the popular opinion is will pass.
Right now, the 10th Notre Dame assistant, newly hired quarterbacks coach Tom Rees, is more of a graduate assistant in waiting until the measure is approved. However, Rees, maintained that his role of instructing the signal-callers is not going to change “regardless of the title.”
The second is adding a much-awaited early signing period during a three-day window in December.
College basketball has long had two signing periods, with the first in November constituting the lion’s share of prospects that ink with their school. A second is available in April, but Notre Dame has seldom used it, looking more toward the “transfer wire” to help bolster its roster, which it has done a half-dozen times since 2000, beginning with current assistant coach Ryan Humphrey coming from Oklahoma.
The new signing period in football would coincide with the time when junior college players sign (this past cycle it was Dec. 11). It would not replace the traditional National Signing Day in February, but the latter would not have the same single-day power and attention as in the past.
The month of June also had been under consideration, but that was deemed way too early, and considered especially unpopular among recruiting machines such as Alabama, Ohio State, etc. because they are at their best at picking their own time to swoop in on elite prospects or ones that blossom as their high school senior year progresses or other factors — injury, progress of the current team, coaching changes, etc. — materialize.
For example, Notre Dame received a verbal commitment from prized four-star Indianapolis linebacker Pete Werner last March. A June signing period might well have signed, sealed and delivered him to the Irish. Instead, while Werner continued to flourish during his senior season, Notre Dame floundered to a 4-8 record. Thus, upon further review, Werner flipped to the Buckeyes, and several other former Irish pledges reconsidered.
Yet, had the December signing period been in effect this year, Notre Dame might have scrambled much more at the end of January because a handful of prospects the Irish received commitments from and signed in the final week could have inked with the schools they had pledged to originally.
In 2016, Notre Dame “flipped” seven players from verbal commitments elsewhere while not losing any for the first time since 2006. This year it had more of a Ol’ Wild West feel to it with the Irish losing six original verbals while picking up five late.
Other considerations that factor in are the notorious practice sometimes of a school pulling the scholarship offer near, if not on, the February signing day, or coaching changes that often occur in December, right after the regular season.
Either way, head coach Brian Kelly said his/NotreDame’s approach will not change dramatically this cycle if the change happens.
“Each kid is going to have to react to it based upon also how their school is going to be dealing with it,” said Kelly of the potential early signing period. “Some will come off the board at that time. We’re getting our hands around it a little bit. We’re expecting some to sign early.
“But I think our mindset is we’re going into it business as usual. We’re all going to have to fight until February.”
Should the new system occur, the recruiting official visit calendar would be accelerated accordingly.
With the current model, schools cannot host official visits (paid for by the school) of high school seniors until Sept. 1. With a December early signing period, official visits would be allowed between April and June of the recruit’s junior year of high school.
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