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Early signing period expected to help FCS programs

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(STATS) - If the NCAA enacts a signing period in Division I earlier than the first Wednesday in February, what doesn't happen on the FBS level could benefit what does in the FCS.

Many coaches are embracing the proposed 72-hour signing period that would begin annually on the third Wednesday of December and precede the traditional signing period, which this year starts on Wednesday. It's when high school seniors can begin to sign a binding National Letter of Intent to formalize their commitment to a college program.

The December signing period would coincide with a period in which junior college players can sign with a four-year school. The proposal, submitted by the Division I Football Oversight Committee, will be voted on by the Division I Council at the NCAA Convention in April in Nashville.

FCS coaches who support the proposal like the notion that more high school seniors will know where they stand with their scholarship possibilities. FBS programs will seek to fill their recruiting classes in the earlier signing period, and those players who have previously held off FCS suitors while waiting for an FBS offer throughout January will know in mid-December if an FBS program is serious about extending a scholarship offer beyond the verbal level.

"My thinking is it will clear the water. The water's all mucked up," Tennessee State coach Rod Reed said. "You have kids, always they think that they're a notch above what they are. If they have the early signing period, that means I can get (possible recruits of) Tennessee and Memphis and Middle (Tennessee) out of the way. Then I've got to compete with the rest of the schools in the state and the surrounding states. So if they do have that early signing period for FBS, and FCS for that matter, I just think it clears the water."

Added Montana coach Bob Stitt, "I think it's going to cut down on (verbal) offers that a lot of the bigger schools make to the kids because if they make these offers, they're going to have to set them up with a National Letter of Intent and they're going to have to sign them. It's going to clear things up for a lot of the FCS schools.

Over the years, members of the American Football Coaches Association have talked about adding an earlier signing period. The original proposal included a signing period in late June at the end of recruits' junior year in addition to the December period, but an ESPN survey of high school players found many favored only the December signing period.

Last month, the oversight committee decided against including the June period in its proposal that was submitted for the NCAA Convention. If approved - and it appears likely - the new policy would begin later this year.

The new signing period could particularly benefit players who have a number of early scholarship offers. Many are anxious to end the recruiting process by locking into one school.

"If you have a December signing period, we'd be sitting there like we were when you have a full class," said coach Mike Houston of 2016 FCS national champion James Madison. "You can go ahead and sign those guys in December. That way you're not having to wait until the end (of the process) in February. The month of January becomes addressing the one or two needs that you have here late."

James Madison has the kind of national program, and top-notch facilities, for its recruiting to somewhat sell itself. Smaller FCS programs among the 124 across the nation won't necessarily be much further along in their recruiting in mid-December than in previous years. Ivy League schools don't participate in national signing day and wouldn't be impacted by a change in rules.

One criticism is that FCS programs will have to increase their on-campus visits during the fall, when their staffs are most focused on their season.

In addition, the FCS programs which are involved in postseason play in late November and December are not able to devote as much time to recruiting as those programs whose seasons are over. That would worsen for postseason qualifiers with the December signing period.

Coach Chris Klieman of FCS power North Dakota State told The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, "There are a lot of benefits, as far as a lot of kids that committed early to be able to get them signed before Christmas. The negative side, as I see it now, is that it probably facilitates a lot more official visits during the season, and do you have enough support staff to make it a quality official visit?"

Added Sam Houston State coach K.C. Keeler:

"We are a little later in recruiting to begin with. Then with the fact that we have played in the playoffs the last six years in a row and are about a month behind in recruiting due to that, there are sometimes some (recruits) who might panic and jump on an early offer so that they do have something on signing day."

Still, even Klieman and Keeler don't deny the positive - waiting less time on various student-athletes. With FBS schools throwing around fewer scholarship offers and filling their classes earlier, the trickle-down effect is sure to help FCS programs.

Reed is anticipating an approval of the mid-December signing period.

"Recruiting is recruiting, you're going to get the ones that you're supposed to get," Reed said. "It's all about how hard you go and who you go after and what your university has to offer to that individual."