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Adding a signing period gains support

DESTIN, Fla. — In many football hamlets and college towns across the South, National Signing Day for football is treated almost like a holiday: a month of buildup followed by a day where little work gets done, at least in the male, 18-to-40 demographic.

Well, Christmas could come early if some coaches get their wish.

The prospect of an early signing period for football is gaining momentum among coaches who want to keep pace with a recruiting process that seems to begin earlier every year.

At the SEC’s spring meetings last year, the coaches voted against an early signing date 9-3. Kentucky’s Rich Brooks, LSU’s Les Miles and Vanderbilt’s Bobby Johnson were the supporters.

The issue is on the agenda again, and there appears to be more support for the addition of a December signing date, which would precede — not replace —the traditional February signing period.

Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer is among at least three SEC coaches who have warmed to the idea.

“Originally, I didn’t know if it would help us. It takes some time after the season to get out there and round them up,” Fulmer said Tuesday. “Now it’s moved up so much, including sophomores and juniors, way earlier, it might help us.”

Increasingly, recruits are committing to schools as high school juniors. However, because such oral commitments are nonbinding, coaches are forced to baby-sit committed players until the February signing day to fend off the recruiting efforts of other schools.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville calls that practice is a waste of money — a sentiment he believes must be conveyed to university presidents if they are to approve an early signing period.

“Most schools have about 20 to 30 percent (of recruits) that know they want to go that school. So you can go ahead and sign them up, then you don’t have to keep going every week,” Tuberville said. “You spend thousands of dollars revisiting the schools as they go. Just because they’re committed doesn’t mean they’re coming.”

Besides the wasted money, Alabama’s Nick Saban cringes at the amount of time devoted to players who already have given a school their word.

During a forum organized by the National Football Foundation this month in Dallas, American Football Coaches Association director Grant Teaff said a recent survey found 70 percent of coaches supported an early signing date.

Teaff said coaches were split on the issue until proponents settled on the December date, which would fall near the existing signing period for junior college recruits.

Not everyone is crazy about the idea.

First-year Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said schools from states with smaller talent bases need the extra time to find players beyond state lines. Others worry that more intense recruiting in the fall will devalue the football season.

Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom said the SEC’s proposal likely would prohibit recruits making official visits during the fall. Still, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier does not like the plan.

“Coaches and fans (would) get too interested in recruiting and the team itself takes a little back seat to all the news about ‘This guy signed or that guy signed,’” Spurrier said. “I’m just a big believer there’s football season, there’s recruiting season, there’s spring practice season and summer. And they’re moving recruiting and signing in the middle of football season.”

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.