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Sunday, January 16, 2022

“Til Signing Day Do Us Part: The Craziness—In a Mostly-Good Way—of College Football Recruiting and National Signing Day

Signing Day

This year, February 4th marked what some call college football’s national holiday. Yes, the much-revered and looked forward to National signing day came and went once again with the same pomp and circumstance to which it has become accustomed over the years. This year’s class, depending on which scouting service you listen to, had either Byron Cowart, Trent Thompson, or Kahlil McKenzie at the top of the list. All of them are defensive linemen, which was a theme that was certainly prevalent at the top of this year’s recruiting crop as the “big uglies” generally took up about five of the top ten spots.

The hometown Gators did better than many recruiting analysts expected, bagging Apopka offensive tackle Martez Ivey (6’6” 170) and Baker County defensive end CeCe Jefferson (6’2” 175), both top-10 talents, among others.

That being said, National Signing Day (NSD) has become much more than a simple listing of which players went where. Today, NSD is a full-blown spectacle, complete with round-the-clock coverage on ESPNU, Bleacher Report, and many others. Cameras, reporters, and upwards of 20 microphones are installed in high school auditoriums and libraries all over the country just to cut in for five-or-so minutes to see what hat a coveted prospect will pick up and put on. These televised announcements are almost immediately followed by articles, videos, and tweets with so-called “analysis” of what these players mean to their new programs, and how they can (or in some cases, are going to) make an instant impact.

It’s exciting. It’s captivating. It’s an event that, thanks to social media, has become as highly anticipated as actual games themselves, if not more so.

However, it also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

According to Webster’s, “commitment” is defined as “a promise to be loyal to someone or something.” In the world of recruiting, however, it means anything but.

Recruits are often quoted as saying things like they “are committed, but keeping options open.” Or that they “are all in on (insert school here), but will still take official visits to X, Y, and Z Universities.” In other words, recruits can “promise” to be loyal to a program without really promising anything at all. It makes absolutely no sense.

Nowhere was this nonsense seen more than with Jim McElwain’s inaugural class as UF, as former Gator head coach turned Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was able to flip a longtime Florida commit in 4-star guard Mike Horton. Similarly, LSU was able to steal away Derrick Dillon, a 4-star wide out and Louisiana native who, at the time, was UF’s only representative at the U.S. Army All-America Bowl. Dillon, like Horton, had been committed to UF for quite some time before he had a change of heart on signing day.

Recruits “flipping” on NSD is not something that’s unique to this year’s UF class or to a coach’s inaugural class. It happens all the time, to every team. People predict it. It’s been completely established that players “committing” doesn’t mean anything. It’s even at the point that some services and/or writers call recruits “strongly committed” or “weakly committed,” which makes little sense considering the definition of committed.

Recently, some articles have been floating around saying that NSD, as it now exists, is on its way out. The “era of early signing periods” or even an early signing day are likely to take away much of the buzz and coverage that surrounds the current NSD, although the actual day itself would likely remain intact.

It’s a real bummer, but it does make a lot of sense for both the schools and the recruits. The recruits would be getting a head start on learning a new system and the coaches would get a head start on evaluating them. This sounds somewhat more practical than the current system, but even with these changes much of the absurdity of the current system remains intact.

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Players would still commit without committing, sports writers and bloggers would still cover recruiting just as much as ever, and NSD would still be close to national holiday status. It just wouldn’t be quite what it is now.

Therefore, for better or for worse, it would appear that some form of signing day is going to stick around. Perhaps someday the misnomer of “committing” will be done away with, or will be applied only when a player has actually signed. Perhaps it won’t be. Either way, NSD is a spectacle that’s become as dramatic and awaited as a soap opera season finale, and here’s to hoping that it stays that way.

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