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February 2, 2013

Signing Day changes could be beneficial

Thirty years ago, National Signing Day could pass by unnoticed for all but the most devoted college football fan. A school's sports information office would put together a list of signees, come up with a release and send it to newspapers who would devote a 12-inch story the next day to tell the world who the incoming freshmen would be.

That doesn't mean there wasn't interest in big-name recruits. Obviously, people were eager to know where Jeff Rutledge or Tony Nathan or Linnie Patrick, to cite a few big names from the 1970s, were headed for college.

There were a few people trying to do roundups on a national basis - Joe Terranova is generally acknowledged as the first. But the idea that Signing Day would become a veritable national holiday for football fans and the engine driving an entire industry of podcasts, television shows, chat rooms and radio call-in forums didn't occur to anyone 30 years ago. I suspect there are more "recruiting analysts" in America than doctors, truck drivers and hockey players combined, although I haven't seen the latest census data to confirm that.

Is that change necessarily bad? There is a lot of grumbling that the new Signing Day culture encourages prospects to play to the cameras, to make sure their announcement ends up on ESPNU or Fox Sports.

On the other hand, can you really begrudge a high school player that moment when schools are benefitting from a billion-dollar television bonanza on the back end? It doesn't seem to have hurt Jadaveon Clowney to have been the No. 1 prospect in America, and did get the subsequent publicity.

If anything, recruiting keeps college football on the front of many people's minds - not everyone, but certainly those with a college preference - during a month-long stretch that would otherwise be conceded to the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl.

So does the NCAA want a change? Would a switch to the often-discussed "early signing period" make a difference, or would it just mean the circus would come to town twice a year instead of once?

I do think there are some prospects who would benefit from an early period, guys who have known for a long time where they want to sign. On the other hand, the February date does let prospects get more information, particularly about whether the coach that is recruiting them is going to stick around or take another job.

I would favor an early period only if there was some sort of out-clause voiding the early letter in the event of a head coaching change.

More locally, does Alabama want a change? Judging from the late tsunami of recruiting scuttlebutt that has Nick Saban reportedly on the verge of taking top blue-chippers away from Texas (in Texas) and Ole Miss (in Mississippi), the UA staff probably likes things the way they are, although it can be argued that, if the rules changed, Alabama would succeed under the new rules, too.

The Crimson Tide does have the massive media exposure and name recognition that supposedly would favor the "traditional powers" with an early period, but it combines that with a relentless recruiting work ethic that allows it to make up ground if necessary.

Yes, the circus is coming to town this week. But there are plenty of reasons why it wouldn't be better to have this extravaganza in November, too.

TideSports.com Recruiting: Weekend nuggets

Reach Cecil Hurt at 205-722-0225 or cecil@tidesports.com



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