If Gary Andersen could change one rule in the NCAA compliance manual, the University of Wisconsin football coach would have it apply to recruiting.
Specifically, he would create an early signing period for his sport, which he believes would significantly reduce costs as well as the stresses and controversies associated with the current system.
“I want it,” Andersen said this week.
Major college football trumpets the first Wednesday in February as its annual day that prospects can begin signing National Letters of Intent. A cottage industry has sprung from the event with recruiting analysts, TV networks, bowl games, high school celebrations and college countdowns ringing in the hectic moment.
A distasteful byproduct to the process is that many recruits change their minds — committing and decommitting to multiple schools over the course of months — and some programs over-sign prospects and unceremoniously cut some at the last minute.
If Andersen had his way, high school recruits would also be able to sign in mid-December, coinciding with the day junior college talent can sign with Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Last year that day was Dec. 18.
The Badgers currently have 13 prospects that have made non-binding oral commitments for 2015.
“Just think of the amount of money that would save,” Andersen said, noting that it would be thousands per recruit in travel costs alone. “Say we have a class of 20 kids and half of them sign (early). That’s 10 kids we’re not chasing every week.”
The issue of an early signing day has been around for some time — the American Football Coaches Association proposed a mid-December date in 2008 only to have it rejected by league commissioners — but it seems to be gaining more traction. Other NCAA sports have long had an early signing period.
The issue was supposed to be on the agenda when the Conference Commissioners Association — a 32-member panel that includes Jim Delany of the Big Ten Conference — met earlier this week. They would have to approve of an early signing period before it could go into effect, which would likely be 2016 at the earliest.
According to the National Football Post, the Big Ten hasn’t taken a public stance on the idea, but two other high-powered leagues have. The Southeastern Conference prefers the current model, but would be OK with an early window if it were the Monday after Thanksgiving. The Atlantic Coast Conference, meanwhile, wants an early period that begins Aug. 1.
Andersen, preparing for his second season as UW coach, said having an early signing period would help him secure prospects that are genuinely committed to playing for him.
“If you said you’re committed to me for the last six or seven months … then sign that damn piece of paper,” he said.
If a recruit declines, Andersen said he would interpret that as the prospect not being committed and Andersen would look for someone else to fill that spot.
“What you’re going to see is you’re going to have more kids have opportunity because we’re going to be moving on,” Andersen said.
According to Andersen, some coaches want to complicate the process by changing the recruiting calendar. He doesn’t.
“I don’t think the recruiting calendar’s broke,” he said.
Andersen thinks an early signing period would ease the stress on high school coaches, college staffs and the recruits themselves.
“It would be a cleaner process,” he said. “It would be fair for everybody.”