If events went according to projections, BCS champion Alabama signed as many as 28 players to a National Letter of Intent on Feb. 3, but the vast majority of those players hadn't needed to wait for that date to confirm that they wanted to move to Tuscaloosa. Of the 25 players who had announced their intention to sign with Alabama as of Sunday, 20 did so before Dec. 15.
The numbers are similar throughout college football. As signing day approached, the bulk of coverage focused on undecided players sought by dozens of schools, such as mammoth offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson of St. Paul's Cretin-Derham Hall. Virtually ignored were hundreds of players who made their choices early. While only 26 of Rivals.com's top 50 recruits for 2010 picked a school before Dec. 15, 143 of the next 200 announced their intentions with at least 10 shopping days left until Christmas and have not wavered. Technically, though, those not already enrolled at the college of their choice were still fair game for poachers from other schools. These players would have benefited from ending the frenzy of their recruitment.
In January 2009 the American Football Coaches Association forwarded a proposal to the Conference Commissioners Association, which administers the National Letter of Intent program, asking for a short signing period beginning on the third Wednesday in December. The proposal had the support of 73% of Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches and 82% of Football Championship Subdivision head coaches. But the proposal was quickly quashed, thanks to the opposition of athletic directors, who envision the December signing period clashing with the December coach-firing period. Canning a coach just before signing day might mean losing recruits. Undaunted, in May coaches and athletic directors from the ACC forwarded to the commissioners association a proposal similar to the AFCA's. That one too was quickly dismissed.
So why keep proposing an early signing period? Because college football needs one. It may make the athletic director's job more difficult, but the people in charge of college football should be worried less about the process of firing coaches and more about the pressures on the young men who just want to pick their school and sign.