Luke DeCock

ACC punts on schedule while NCAA takes action on recruiting – DeCock

Former NFL great Randy Moss speaks after his son, Thaddeus Moss, signed with N.C. State during a press conference at Mallard Creek High School on national signing day Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016.
Former NFL great Randy Moss speaks after his son, Thaddeus Moss, signed with N.C. State during a press conference at Mallard Creek High School on national signing day Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

While the ACC was busy punting on its football schedule, turning down millions from ESPN in the process, the NCAA quietly proposed a few changes that could have a far more massive impact on college football than whether the ACC plays eight or nine conference games.

The NCAA’s Division I Council proposed not one but two early signing periods for football, which would end the charade of token scholarship offers and meaningless commitments by giving players and coaches a chance to sign a letter of intent in June or December, instead of waiting until National Signing Day in February.

The ACC has long supported such a change, which has been opposed by football powers like Alabama and Ohio State, which enjoy using their power and prestige to go trolling for recruits at the last minute regardless of whether they have committed elsewhere (as a sop to those schools, the NCAA also proposed adding a 10th assistant coach, which gives programs with big budgets another place to outspend their rivals) although, to be fair, everyone tries it with varying degrees of success.

At the moment, the only day recruiting means anything is National Signing Day, when schools and players have to make a solid commitment to each other. Schools are free to offer scholarships at any time – and then yank their offers when a better player commits. Players are equally free to change their commitment if a better offer comes along.

An early period (or two) will force schools to be more selective with their offers, but if there’s a match between school and player, they can make it official earlier and stop Urban Meyer from calling all winter. And if not, player and school can still flirt until February – but they’re no longer forced to do so.

There remains the problem of coaching changes after recruits sign, but that’s a problem with the letter of intent in every sport, one that has long needed a similar dose of common-sense reform.

The proposal still has to be approved at the NCAA convention in January, and adopted by the commissioners, who administer the National Letter of Intent program, but the council proposal is a massive step toward sanity.

Perhaps the same can be said of the ACC, which faced a difficult choice, at ESPN’s instigation, between a schedule that included eight conference games and two games against Power 5 opponents or nine conference games and one against a Power 5 opponent, options intended to increase inventory for the ACC Network.

While the nine-game schedule made the most sense for the league collectively, some schools were justifiably concerned about being at a competitive disadvantage for various reasons, most notably among those schools that play an annual series against SEC opponents (especially with Notre Dame lurking thanks to its scheduling agreement with the ACC). Other schools, meanwhile, worried about the pool of potential Power 5 opponents in an eight-plus-two model as other conferences adopt nine-game schedules.

So the ACC decided to pass on a reported $500,000 per school per season from ESPN and stick at the current eight-plus-one model. It was a curious decision – when’s the last time the ACC turned down money from ESPN? – that highlights how high the scheduling stakes are and how deep the internal divisions are.

(Conspiracy theorists might even wonder if Notre Dame’s football future was a consideration, since the Irish are unlikely to be interested in a nine-game ACC schedule should full membership ever become a possibility.)

So while the ACC’s scheduling status quo got all the attention Wednesday, the real change in college football was happening more quietly elsewhere. The maneuvers of NCAA bureaucracy can be difficult to parse sometimes, but these recruiting proposals are a tangible, significant step forward.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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