DESTIN, Fla. — If an early signing period had existed two years ago, then Riley Ridley likely would have signed with South Carolina. Ridley was committed there until January of his senior year of high school, when he flipped to Georgia, where he is an emerging standout receiver.
There’s also David Marshall, who was committed to Auburn and could have signed there if an early signing period had existed. Instead he flipped to Georgia, on the traditional first Wednesday in February in 2016, and had an immediate impact last year.
The examples abound. Many have benefitted big programs like Georgia, many have not. And now the calculus is changing.
“There will be two really stressful periods for recruiting staffs,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “It went from one really stressful period, to there’ll be two now.”
The NCAA has instituted the early signing period for the upcoming recruiting cycle. High school players can sign on Dec. 20, and the early signing period lasts for 72 hours. After that, they can sign on the traditional signing day, the first Wednesday in February.
Junior college transfers have always been able to sign early, in December. And high school recruits who enroll for the spring semester can continue to do so.
The concern over the early signing period, which the SEC didn’t want, was a big source of discussion on the first day at the league’s meetings here on Tuesday. The coaches especially expressed consternation over it, both in public and behind closed doors.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of high school coaches, and I haven’t spoken to very many that have been in favor of it,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said.
Florida coach Jim McElwain expects hasty decisions made in December.
“You’re gonna see some buyer’s remorse on both sides,” McElwain said.
But there’s nothing to be done at this point. It’s the law, and coaches are now learning to deal with it.
Georgia’s staff, which has just two commitments thus far for the 2018 class, has been discussing how many it will have sign in December. Smart said he doesn’t yet know the answer to that.
“I could speculate. We’ve talked about it a lot as a staff,” Smart said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure on whatever you call them, middle-range, not the elite, elite guys that’s waiting till signing day. But all those other guys are going to get hammered.”
In other words, teams will pressure recruits to sign in December and thus get locked in – rather than get pried away over the next two months, as the chips begin falling.
Ridley and Marshall are examples of players who flipped to other major programs. But one aim of the early signing period – and this is why smaller conferences pushed hard for it – is to lock in prospects, lest they get poached away by big programs at the last minute.
Smart offered an example that hurt his friend Mike Bobo last year: Colorado State secured a commitment from defensive lineman Sincere David last summer. But when Ole Miss, which itself lost a defensive line recruit, came calling, it flipped David away from Bobo’s team.
“It was a trickle-down effect where everybody lost a guy,” Smart said. “So now does that happen? That doesn’t happen because that kid may have already signed.”
Georgia is usually on the good side of these examples of late flips, so the early signing period could potentially hurt it, along with other recruiting powers. This year there aren’t many such examples, as Georgia recruited so well early in the process. But inside linebacker Monty Rice, who committed to LSU in mid-December, could potentially have signed with the Tigers, rather than changing his mind and enrolling at UGA in January, as he did.
Four years ago, a three-star safety from Tucker High School had scant interest from major programs. So he committed to Central Florida in late January. Maybe if there had been an early signing period, UCF would have tried to lock him in then, and he wouldn’t have been available for Georgia to poach at the last minute.
But Dominick Sanders did flip from UCF to Georgia, and has gone on to be a starter, first-team All-SEC pick, and potentially the program’s career leader in interceptions.
Stories like that will resonate over the next few months, as the small schools try to use the early signing period to their advantage – and the big schools try to react.
“What’s going to happen is at the other levels, the conferences below us, they’re going to try to lock their guys in, because they’re the ones that get fished upon right at the end when somebody doesn’t get a kid,” Smart said. “So there’s trickle-down effect, I’m really interested to see how it goes.”