On the heels of a huge verbal commitment from three-star running back Jeremy Larkin, we have to face a harsh reality when it comes to college recruiting... it is just a verbal commitment. A commitment at this stage in the recruiting process is considered a "hard commitment" or a "gentlemen's agreement". It really doesn't always mean much come February's traditional National Signing Day.
Now, this article isn't about Larkin, but college recruiting in general. The College Commissioners Association has voted this week on whether or not there will be a second signing period for high school football players, ultimately deciding to "table" the decision until next year. So, we will not have an early signing period this year, but let's play with hypotheticals.
If the current proposition eventually passes, high school football players would have from December 16-18 to sign letters of intent, thus officially committing to their school of choice. For all intents and purposes, their recruitment would end there with that signing period. Anyone who didn't sign at that time would still have the media storm that is National Signing Day in February to look forward to, but those with their minds made up in December would be done and finished with the process.
The debate over an early signing period in college football recruiting has been ongoing and you can seemingly find a solid argument on either side. Those who support the push for change emphasize how it will simplify the process for recruits who know where they want to attend and will help coaches focus their recruiting efforts elsewhere after missing or signing a target. It helps to know earlier in the process, as a coach, if you are either wasting your time or know for a fact you have that player locked up and don't need to keep checking in on them, hoping another school doesn't sway him out of a verbal commitment before February.
The other side of the argument points to the stress it puts on high school kids who feel pressured into an early decision or those athletes who sign a letter of intent, watch the coach that recruited them move on and then are left with limited options in what remains of the recruiting process. Additionally, some worry about the recruiting schedule shifting (where schools will have to schedule visits earlier in the football season) and others express concern over how an early signing period could impact schools who need to see a recruit's academic fall semester to conclude before feeling comfortable with signing them.
That said, the multiple signing day structure isn't exactly foreign, with basketball being the most recognizable sport to successfully string out the "hoopla", so to speak. Peter Berkes, Kevin Trahan and Bud Elliot over at SB Nation's College Football blog wrote an interesting piece outlining the winner and losers from a proposition such as this in college football. First off, it is an interesting read and, secondly, it begs the question...
What could this mean for the Cincinnati Bearcats specifically?
Selfishly, I think an early signing day would be advantageous for Cincinnati. Tommy Tuberville is a very good coach and you could easily argue for even grander superlatives given his career success. Even in his relatively brief time in the Queen City, he has developed a knack for finding talented players who are beyond the Power-Five's gaze.
Cincinnati is "big" enough, in the public eye, that the coaching staff has been able to compile a solid group of verbal commitments for 2016 after bringing in 12 three-star recruits for 2015 and having the opportunity to sign players earlier in the process may bring even more success.
Cincinnati is an unique school in that it looks, sounds and feels like a Power Five Conference team, yet it isn't. How many of the current 2016 recruits had offers from MAC schools? Having written each of those articles, I can tell you that Cincinnati clearly pulls more weight than Miami (OH) when appealing to three-star and under-appreciated two-star talent. The Cincinnati Bearcats carry weight in the recruiting world as a team just beyond the Power Five and the coaching staff is skilled enough to pick up high-potential, under-the-radar talent and that's with the mammoths of college football looming over them, playing tug and war with four and five-star recruits.
I believe that an early signing period would be advantageous for Cincinnati because the Bearcats could sign players early before the Ohio State's of the world can work down their recruiting list, begging verbal commits to reconsider. For example, let's say a highly-regarded player who is verbally committed to Cincinnati could sign in December. If they sign, the Bearcats can relax their recruiting efforts on both and refocus elsewhere, knowing the Power Five conferences couldn't sway them. As recruiting currently works though, that player can, and is, recruited up until the February National Signing Day, regardless of their verbal commitment. If say, Ohio State, misses out on their top options at that position, they can work down their list over the winter and through January and offer a scholarship to that player. In some cases, the team to receive the initial commitment loses that player and, in other cases, the player remains loyal for one reason or another.
Of the 500 players ranked in the Rivals100 for the classes of 2007 through 2011, 73 (14.6 percent) decomitted at some point during their recruitment. Of those, 62 (12.4 percent) ultimately signed with a school other than the one to which they originally committed.
Is an early signing period going to suddenly mean everyone upholds their commitments? Not necessarily, but you could make an argument that Cincinnati could be major benefactors if an early signing period comes to fruition at some point. Cincinnati finds and sells well to solid talent and, in the current recruiting climate, works hard to maintain those relationships through February because the talent they recruit does find it's way onto Power Five recruiting boards as the process is drawn-out. With an early signing period, the Power Five teams don't have as much time to swoop in on recruits.
Now, I'm not saying an early signing period is perfect. It could exploit high school athletes who make a decision because a relationship with a coach and then watch that coach leave for some reason, but from a selfish, "how do the Bearcats get the best athletes on campus", it makes some sense. Cincinnati is big enough to draw in top talent and having the opportunity to officially sign players before bigger schools can swoop in can't hurt, right?
I am curious though about what you think? Do you think an early signing period benefits the Bearcats?