NATIONAL SIGNING DAY needs to go away. The current model of marrying high school players to college football programs invites chaos and hurt feelings because, despite the liberal use of the word commitment throughout the recruiting process, neither party has to actually commit to anything until the first Wednesday in February of the player's senior year. Instead, a coach can accept a commitment only to tell the player no scholarship will be available after the coach has found a better option. Meanwhile, the top players can commit to a coach early, then flip to another school at the 11th hour.
How could it be fixed? Allow players who have received scholarship offers to sign a legally binding National Letter of Intent from the moment they set foot in high school.
It may seem counterintuitive, but allowing players to sign much sooner—and eliminating the circled-on-the-calendar date—would make both parties more cautious. How many lotharios would say "I love you" if the law required them to back that sentiment up with a diamond solitaire every time? The same thinking applies here. Only obvious future stars would receive offers as sophomores or juniors. Grades would matter more, too. Most coaches wouldn't be willing to tie up one of their 25 annual scholarships on a player who might not qualify academically. Would some coaches still fill future classes with high school juniors? Sure. The dumb ones. They'd quickly be fired.
The NCAA would need to change its rules about official visits; currently prospects can't take any of their five allowable expenses-paid trips to schools they're considering until the start of their senior years. Players, meanwhile, would have to think very carefully before they signed. The NLI binds the player to the school, not to the coach. If the coach gets fired after the player signs, the player is still obligated to attend.
February 15, 2016
This plan will probably never happen because athletic directors want to be as free as possible to get rid of coaches after bad seasons; signed paperwork from prospects gets in the way. But we can dream of a day when the terms soft commit, solid verbal and committable offer are replaced by documents that actually mean something.