SEC recruiting gets additional wrinkle

By: Democrat-Gazette staff and wire reports
Published: Tuesday, May 16, 2017
LSU coach Ed Orgeron.
Photo by Associated Press
LSU coach Ed Orgeron.

FAYETTEVILLE -- LSU Coach Ed Orgeron grew up in Louisiana and has coached at Ole Miss and Tennessee, so he understands the ferocity of SEC recruiting.

"It's a war out there," Orgeron said Monday. "Now you have two of them."

The Collegiate Commissioners Association last week approved an early national signing period starting Dec. 20-22 in 2017. That's in addition to the traditional signing period that starts on the first Wednesday in February.

The early signing period was a hot topic on the SEC football coaches' spring teleconference Monday.

"The biggest complication it's going to bring about is, you're going to have guys having to make intense decisions, possibly during the week of their [high school] playoff runs," Georgia Coach Kirby Smart said. "Finals are usually during that time.

"There's going to be a lot of different pressures. There's going to be pressure from the school you're maybe supposed to go to, and then there's going to be a lot of pressure from other schools to say, 'Wait. Why don't you wait to see what happens to that staff, that coach and maybe make a more informed decision come February?' "

Bret Bielema was hired as the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville coach Dec. 4, 2012 -- two months before the signing date. Now Bielema's hiring at that time would be less than three weeks before the early signing period.

Bielema was among several SEC coaches who expressed concern with how the early signing period will affect recruiting, especially having official visits in the spring and summer prior to a player's high school senior season rather in the fall and winter.

"You move the calendar days around recruiting, you don't add any spring coaching visits, but you might add official visits in April, May, June," Bielema said. "There's just so many moving parts, it's going to be hard to figure out the effect, what's good or bad."

Alabama Coach Nick Saban, who annually has one of the country's top recruiting classes and has led the Crimson Tide to four national championships since 2009, said the evaluation process on recruits will speed up.

"I think evaluation is important, and I think the sooner you have to make decisions on these guys, the greater opportunity you have to make mistakes," Saban said. "So we're trying to make sure that we accelerate and do a great job in the evaluation process.

"I don't know that accelerating the calendar like we're talking about and letting guys visit in the spring is all that good. Football's a developmental game. A lot of guys you see as seniors look a lot different than when they were sophomores and juniors."

Florida Coach Jim McElwain said a plus to the early signing period is finding out which recruits and schools are committed to each other.

"I truly believe it's going to call some people's bluff, both from the players' side and the schools' side," McElwain said. "It'll be interesting to see."

South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp said if a player is committed to a particular school but doesn't sign there in December, coaches will need to re-evaluate their recruiting numbers to that position.

"Because you're not really sure if he's going to sign with you in February," Muschamp said. "So I think this will bring some clarity to it."

There is a growing trend of recruits graduating a semester early from high school and enrolling at their college of choice in January to be able to go through winter conditioning and spring practice. Those players have missed out on having national signing day events.

"It'll allow them to have their day in the sun," McElwain said.

Several coaches said they'll be happy to sign long-term commitments early, but they wonder about signing players they may not have been able to get to know well or thoroughly research academically to make sure they'll meet NCAA eligibility requirements.

"I'm a big fan of getting to know kids, and that's difficult," Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze said of the early signing period. "I want to know the kid's a fit with us. That's really important to me.

"The way it's been expedited because of this is troubling to me a little bit and could cause you to be a bit reckless."

Democrat-Gazette staff writer Bob Holt contributed to this report.

Sports on 05/16/2017

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