The NCAA’s new early signing period, which begins on Wednesday, Dec. 20, is changing college football recruiting as we know it.
Virginia Tech, and programs across the country, have been thrown into the fire of a new recruiting cycle with new dynamics in play. Head coach Justin Fuente and his staff have spent countless hours in recent weeks not only preparing for the Camping World Bowl vs. Oklahoma State, but also trying to wrap a bow on their Class of 2018.
There are still a few hours left before the early signing period begins, but Fuente isn’t yet sold on the changes.
“I think I’ll have some pretty strong convictions after we get all the way through it,” Fuente said on Monday. “There’s certainly some challenges. I don’t think anybody really cares what the challenges for the coaches are, and I don’t really disagree with them either. I’m not positive that it’s the best thing for the players. I think it’s probably, and this is me riding the fence here a little bit, but I think it’s probably for some kids good, and for some kids a little stressful. But we’ll have to get through the whole thing to see how it really goes.”
Fuente reiterated that while he doesn’t mind the early signing period, he does think the entire recruiting calendar has been pushed up too far in recruits’ careers. Recruits are now allowed to take official visits in the spring and summer before their senior year of high school, which moves the recruiting process even earlier than it already is.
“When they said they we’re going to move the signing day to December, I was kind of indifferent. I’m still kind of indifferent about it, honestly,” Fuente said. “The thing that I’m most concerned about is us continuing to move recruiting earlier. I just, I think these kids need time to make their decisions. There’s a big difference between a high school junior and high school senior. Kids have different interests, they’re still developing, and I’m leery of the things that we’re doing that continue to move the recruiting decision date and opportunity dates earlier.”
As stressful as the last couple of weeks have been, it could have been worse. Imagine Virginia Tech playing their bowl game on Dec. 16, like North Texas did, and be forced to do all their bowl preparation during the final days before the early signing period. Fuente said he hopes to talk with North Texas head coach Seth Littrell, a fellow Oklahoma native, about how he managed things.
“I know they lost the game, but I’m anxious to see what his schedule looked like, in terms of recruiting,” Fuente said. “It used to be if — as a head coach, you’re only allowed to see each player one time. If they’re not signing until February, then it’s ok if you save that until the January recruiting period. But if they’re signing in December, you better get to see them in December. Well what if you’re playing on Dec. 16? Balancing that is an interesting quandary.”
Fortunately for Fuente, most of Virginia Tech’s Class of 2018 will be wrapped up during the early period. The Hokies hold verbal commitments from 25 players, and are only recruiting a handful of prospective student-athletes for the Class of 2018. Outside of players like Dax Hollifield and Javontae Jean-Baptiste, the Hokies will spend the period between the early signing period and National Signing Day (Feb. 7) recruiting for the 2019 and 2020 classes.
Still, as much relief as that might give Fuente, he isn’t sure the new recruiting changes are the answer to a complicated question.
“Yeah, there is an element of it being wrapped up, there’s no question about that,” Fuente said. “And again, I don’t think we should pass the rules for the coaches. I think we should pass them for the players. I’m an advocate of the players. I’m just not sure that’s what we’re doing. So yeah, for me to go into dead period and know that whatever percentage of our class is already done, that’s nice for me. But, my question is, what about the kids? And maybe it is ok, I’m not sure.”