UA’s Rich Rod: Consider ending National Signing Day

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                </div>  Just about this time last week, the coaching staffs at every major university sports program in Arizona were huddled around their fax machines, coffee in hand, as the long […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Just about this time last week, the coaching staffs at every major university sports program in Arizona were huddled around their fax machines, coffee in hand, as the long National Signing Day on Wednesday slowly unfolded.  The high drama of waiting to see which verbal commitments would hold, and which would be lost at the eleventh hour, has become an annual tradition across the college sports landscape.

Some recruits made their verbal commitments over a year ago, and that provides plenty of time for re-thinking their decision before having to actually sing on the dotted line at Signing Day.  And even those commitments secured just months before the Signing Day aren’t a sure deal.  A good example was 4-star prospect Paul Lucas‘ de-commit from  the Arizona State football program as Signing Day was getting underway –  just 41 days after the Mountain Pointe High School receiver announced he would be joining the Sun Devil program.

So Rich Rodriguez, who just wrapped his fourth season as the head coach of the University of Arizona football program, wants his coaching fraternity to take a closer look at a proposal floated by Bo Pelini when he was still the Nebraska coach.  Pelini questioned whether Signing Day should be eliminated.

According to an article by Andy Staples on the Sports Illustrated website, Rodriguez will likely bring up the idea at the May meeting of the American Football Coaches Association.  Rich Rod is a member of the organization’s board of trustees.

“We ought to do the pros and cons of Bo Pelini’s idea of not having a signing day,” Rodriguez was quoted as saying in the SI piece.  He noted there would be at least one thing for sure if recruits were allowed to sign sooner: “You’re going to be that much more careful before you offer.  And they’re (recruits) going to be more careful before they commit.”  That’s why coaches have to make more scholarship offers than they can actually fill; they know they will lose some along the way.

And, while he didn’t say it, being able to sign recruits on the spot instead of just getting verbal commitments, would eliminate the ‘tampering’ that goes on between the verbal commit and when signing day finally arrives, since most coaches see these recruits as “fair game” until they actually sign that binding National Letter of Intent.

Sure, the NLI is just a piece of paper and contracts are broken all the time.  But a recruit would understand the binding nature of the NLI because if is broken, the NCAA imposes penalties for that abuse.  There would be considerable thought before signing.

Staples’ article notes that at least one other coach, Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech, has been thinking about the idea for awhile and he feels the colleges should be allowed to sign high school players as early as the end of their junior year.  For some coaches, that might be too early because it doesn’t give them time to review their academic achievements – or lack thereof – during their senior year.  Coaches want to be sure their prized prospect doesn’t wash out once he comes up against college courses.

As with any new idea, there are pros and cons to consider.  But Rodriguez evidently feels it’s time to explore this one further.  “Sometimes you get in the habit of just doing things because that’s the way you’ve always done them,” he says.  “Sometimes it’s OK to sit back and say, ‘Is there a better way of doings things?’ ”

Attempting to make major changes to tradition doesn’t always work.  He learned that during his three-year stint as head coach of the tradition-rich University of Michigan program.  More than not winning enough games, his attempted changes in the football culture in Ann Arbor cost him his job there.

But this time he might be on to something that’s in the best interest of the game.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)