The issue of an early signing date has received recent attention from college football coaches. Many coaches appear to be in favor of instituting an early signing date although there is no consensus regarding how to implement this idea. The rationale for an earlier signing date ranges from cost savings obtained by having to spend less time continuing the recruiting process to easing the process for the student-athlete and the coaching staff. Although some of this reasoning is sound, a question remains: Is this best for the student-athletes long-term development?
As a former Division 1 soccer coach, I encountered this question many times with colleagues. College soccer, particularly on the women’s side, is notorious for beginning the recruiting process at a very early age. A recent commitment from an 8th grader was highly publicized in a New York Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/27/sports/committing-to-play-for-a-college-then-starting-9th-grade.html?ref=collegeathletics). While serving as the NSCAA Division 1 representative, we debated back and forth about this same subject. The over-riding concern was the removal of the stress of recruiting by having student-athletes signing earlier. As with football, an early signing date could relieve stress from both sides: the student-athlete and the college coach.
I question the idea with a few thoughts. First, where would this process stop? If we permit an early signing date, when should that be? Generally, signing dates are not encouraged during the traditional competitive season. If college soccer were to add an early signing date, would the date be during the summer season prior to the student-athlete’s senior year? This date would be anywhere from 6-8 months prior to the existing signing date. However, this early date would be prior to the permissible dates for official visits. It would shortly follow the traditional date for permissible contacts by the coach. Does a student-athlete possess all necessary information to make such a decision? Does the student-athlete possess the maturity to make this decision? The senior year is a tremendous period of growth both physically and mentally.
If an early date is enacted, what rationale would prevent or discourage moving the date earlier at some point? When would the cycle end?
Addressing the idea of stress, should we remove stress from the process by removing deliberation at a later, more mature age? Many parents state “We just want to get the process over with.” I don’t consider that a valid reason for making a decision. When thinking about the important decisions in life, most are stressful. If the decision is important (and selecting a college or university is important), does it not deserve time, contemplation, and, yes, stress?
Finally, if the student-athlete makes a verbal commitment prior to a signing date, both parties should be willing to stand by it. If a certain college or university is the best choice for a student-athlete, the student-athlete should not be swayed by outside forces. The college coach should remain equally committed regardless if the later development of the player does not measure up to predicted levels.
This topic will no doubt be discussed further by those involved in recruiting battles that carry on daily. I would only hope that those discussing new ideas consider the best path for a student-athlete as their primary goal.
Dr. William Steffen is the Academy’s Chair of Sports Coaching. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org