In late January or early February every year, there is a new round of consternation about the growth of football’s Signing Day. Once only a day of celebration for recruits and watched by only the most ardent fans and boosters, signing day has gone mainstream, thanks to television, recruiting websites, and social media.
That growth has led to a circus atmosphere and a culture of oneupmanship between prospects and coaches. Recruits are coming up with ever more creative ways to indicate they have picked a school, with small animals and children now part of the act. While coaches are hemmed in to some degree by recruiting rules, they have explored every bit of space given and somehow manage to find something new to try every year.
There have been more and more calls to end signing day and return to the days before the National Letter of Intent when prospects could sign whenever they chose. With less focus on one day at the beginning of February, prospects would commit and sign whenever they feel most comfortable. Recruiting and signing would be a year-round process with less pressure to wrap it up on a specific day.
If the goal is to reduce attention on the recruiting process and make it a more private decision involving the player and the college coach, that horse has left the barn. With no signing day, each top prospect would get their own signing day. As much signing day can be a circus, it is still a communal experience prospects share with the rest of their class, future teammates and friends who play other sports.
There will always be a day that prospects can start signing scholarship offers. The only way to make that day irrelevant is to make it so early that most college coaches will not commit to a prospect at that time. But some will, so you would need to be comfortable with freshmen in high school or eighth graders signing scholarships, even if it would be only a small fraction of recruits.
There’s also the small matter of the NLI. Even the strongest opponent of the NLI should recognize the need for a prospect to be able to shutdown the recruiting process. But even the most ardent supporter of the NLI would probably agree that underclassmen in high school should not be signing anything which locks them into their choice, even temporarily. That means there must be a point where prospects can start to really end the recruiting process and that day is likely to be late enough (junior or senior year) that prospects will be ready to commit, especially if the pressure is focused on that specific day.
Much like democracy, the February signing date is the worst way for prospects to sign with a school, except for all the others. The season is over and coaching changes have mostly been made. It sets the date for committing to a school at roughly the time most high school seniors commit to attending a college. And prospects do not have to sign on signing day, an option more and more are taking, especially during basketball’s early signing period.
By and large signing day is harmless fun. Kids who have worked hard from a very young age get a day to celebrate the culmination of that effort and get to do it with their peers, parents, coaches, and teachers. All of the negatives associated with signing day are so ingrained in the recruiting process that getting rid of signing day will only move those problems rather than combat them.