The Early Returns on Early Signing Day

This week's #DearAndy mailbag: Do coaches like the December signing period? Is Georgia's No. 1 class as good as it looks? Will the Pac-12 ever catch the SEC and Big Ten?
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The first National Signing Day: December Edition is in the books, and it produced some excellent questions…

From Lanny: Any early reactions from coaches on the early signing day?

The coaches who dislike the early signing period had their say before this week. Alabama’s Nick Saban was especially critical last week. On Wednesday, the coaches who prefer the early period came out of the woodwork. It isn’t early enough for everyone’s tastes—some would prefer an August signing date or no signing date at all—but the consensus among the coaches who voiced support is that it eliminated a lot of unnecessary silliness that would have taken place in January. “Personally, it really cleans up the month of January in a big way,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

Many of the complaints centered on the compressed time period that required coaches to secure a class while prepping for bowl games. Swinney called BS on that, pointing out that NCAA contact rules haven’t changed.

“It’s not any different than it’s ever been,” Swinney said. “We’ve always been recruiting [while prepping] for bowl games. Nothing has changed. The only thing that changed is there’s a date in December that guys can sign a piece of paper. We’re on the road recruiting. If this signing date wasn’t here today, guess what? Nothing would have changed in my life the last three weeks. Nothing. I’d have still been on the road. I’d have still been doing home visits. I’d have been at schools. We’d have been bowl prepping. We’d have been bowl practicing. Nothing would have changed. The only thing that’s different is that all the guys who are committed to us and wanted to make a decision now had the opportunity to do that. So it’s 100% to the benefit of the player.”

Another coach who loved the new date was Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy. Gundy’s staff has been excellent through the years at evaluating prospects, and that has led to other schools trying to pick off Cowboys commitments down the stretch. Gundy believes the early signing period may have made it easier for his coaches to defend the class from poachers. “It’s interesting, with the early signing period we had some poachers—not as many as in the past—but we had a few poachers,” Gundy told reporters Wednesday. “The majority of them failed, and I thought that was interesting.”

Don’t expect many tweaks to the rules after this first early signing period. Coaches and administrators will want to see how this evolves over a period of years before making any major changes. The best idea remains eliminating signing day entirely, but that’s a bridge too far for most athletic directors. The December early period worked for most coaches and prospects, so expect it to become the third Wednesday in December to become the new National Signing Day for the foreseeable future.

From @HistoryOfMatt: I’ve never really followed recruiting, never message recruits or anything insane like this ... so if I know Kirby is doing something amazing, does that mean it’s even better than I think it is?

I’m not one to tell a fan base to get overly excited about a single recruiting class. Sometimes they just don’t pan out. But the combination of Georgia’s play on the field this season and Kirby Smart’s recruiting since he got to Athens suggests Smart is building a monster at Georgia.

The signing of quarterback Justin Fields a year after landing current starter Jake Fromm suggests Smart understands quite well how his former boss Saban built a juggernaut at Alabama.

When Smart took the Georgia job, the Bulldogs had a commitment from a five-star quarterback (Jacob Eason). Smart moved quickly to ensure Eason, who had been recruited by Mark Richt, still wanted to be a Bulldog. With Eason in Athens in March 2016 as an early enrollee, Smart flipped Fromm from Alabama. Fromm, from Warner Robins, had always wanted to play for Georgia. A lot of coaches would have stopped here. With that kind of talent already in the fold, it might be risky to bring in another alpha QB. But the state of Georgia featured two of the best quarterbacks in the class of 2017 (Fields and Trevor Lawrence), so Smart kept plugging away.

Lawrence committed early to Clemson. Smart zeroed in on Fields, who backed off an earlier commitment to Penn State. The recruitment of Fields suggests Smart isn’t wed to an entirely pro-style offense. If Fields is as advertised, he would bring an arm capable of running Georgia’s current scheme with legs that would allow it to become more dynamic. But while Smart was recruiting Fields, Eason got hurt and Fromm took over. Fromm, a true freshman who didn’t care that he had a five-star in front of him when he signed, helped the Bulldogs to an SEC title and a playoff berth.

So where did that leave Fields? Other schools tried to turn him. He probably would have started immediately at Florida, but an in-home visit from new Gators coach Dan Mullen didn’t sway him. He wanted to play for Georgia, and he isn’t scared of competing with Fromm. Saban built Alabama’s dominance by stacking up player after player with this attitude, and Smart seems to be doing the same thing at Georgia. (Which is necessary, because Urban Meyer has been doing it for years at Ohio State and Dabo Swinney is doing it better than anyone right now at Clemson.) The idea is to have legitimate battles for every starting job on the field every year between veterans and freshmen who aren’t intimidated by the idea of internal competition against the best players.

Will there be transfers? Of course. Will there be hurt feelings? Absolutely. Will there be more championships? It’s quite possible.

From Matt: Is there any possibility this Herm Edwards thing works at ASU?

I hope it does because I like when people try new ideas instead of falling back into a familiar rut. Unfortunately, the execution of this particular idea by Sun Devils athletic director Ray Anderson may have been lacking. His plan was to fire Todd Graham and place Edwards with a staff that Anderson already liked. But before going forward with such a plan, it’s probably best to make sure that the coordinators intend to stay.

It’s perfectly understandable that offensive coordinator Billy Napier would leave. He landed the head coaching job at Louisiana-Lafayette. But before Napier took that job, defensive coordinator Phil Bennett elected not to return to Arizona State. If Anderson really wanted to pair Edwards with Bennett, how could Anderson have gone through with the plan without first making sure Bennett would be O.K. with it?

Edwards has an infectious personality that should make him an effective recruiter, but he has been out of football for a while, and the changes in the college game in the past 10 years make it schematically a very different sport than the NFL game Edwards left in 2008. How Edwards fares will depend on the quality of his staff. Arizona State moved quickly to promote Rob Likens to offensive coordinator after Napier’s departure. Edwards has said he hopes to have a defensive coordinator in place by the end of this week. We’ll see how well Arizona State’s new CEO of Football Operations handles his first big hire.

From Steve: Is there really anything the Pac-12 can do to make up the vast financial disparity with the SEC and Big Ten?

This is a major concern for Pac-12 programs, and Cal chancellor Carol Christ recently voiced other concerns about the management of the league.

As far as the money goes, there isn’t really a way to close the gap with those two particular leagues. The reason the Big Ten and SEC generate more revenue is that on the whole, the fans of those schools care more about college football than the fans of schools in the Pac-12 do. As consumer blocs, Big Ten and SEC fans are more willing to spend more per month on a conference cable network, and they are more likely to place pressure on a cable or satellite outlet that doesn’t carry that network. This results in higher carriage fees and better distribution for the Big Ten and SEC networks. It also helps insulate those networks against revenue lost to cord-cutting. Those networks also will lose revenue as people cut the cord, but they won’t lose it as fast. And no matter the distribution method, fans in the Big Ten and SEC will always be willing to pay more for college football than fans in the Pac-12 will. As consumers, they have demonstrated this time and again. So while everyone makes fun of the SEC’s “It just means more” slogan, it isn’t wrong. It just also happens to apply to the Big Ten.

From David:

I say yes. Please send five orders to my table immediately.

From VSW:

Your team’s rival, of course.