Luke DeCock

It’s the end of signing day as we know it, and we all feel fine – DeCock

It’s the one day when every football coach is a champion, every future player is a star, every recruit is fast, explosive, smart and a great student. It’s also a complete farce, for all those reasons. Other than being the day where both coaches and players have to turn their verbal non-commitment “commitments” into actual, sign-on-the-dotted-line commitments, there’s no substance to National Signing Day, just a lot of ceremony designed to impress future recruits, a perpetual cycle of hype.

So if you enjoy signing day, enjoy Wednesday, because it’s the last one as we know it. Even those who scoff at it – for good reason – will no doubt miss it a little bit when it’s gone. The nonsense. The video clips. The complete triumph of speculation over substance. The one day each year when 21st Century people actually use fax machines. There may still be big, flashy presentations next year, but they’ll mean even less than they do now.

In April, the NCAA is likely to approve a new 72-hour signing period in mid-December, giving players and coaches a chance to make commitments official long before February. That’s a long overdue, common-sense change to the football recruiting process, which is plagued by broken promises and dirty tricks, even if it doesn’t solve the bigger problems with the National Letter of Intent, a one-sided contract that heavily favors the interests of colleges over those of athletes.

The early signing period will take a lot of the faux celebration out of signing day, even if coaches will no doubt still take the opportunity to proclaim just how great their recruiting classes are. And while ESPN will still have enough elite undecided players to build a day of programming around, there’s going to be a lot less actual recruiting news on that day.

Already, the increasing numbers of players enrolling early have taken some of the air out of signing day; a player already on campus isn’t flipping to a rival at the last second. Next year, by the time February rolls around, there may only be a handful of scholarships left unfilled. It’s possible some schools that aren’t in the five-star hunt could sign most if not all of their incoming class early, locking down recruits before bigger schools can poach them.

And while schools and coaching staffs were, on Tuesday, just trying to get through the next 24 hours, there are already questions about how things will be handled next year, assuming the legislation goes through (and there’s no reason to expect it won’t at this point).

Will schools announce players’ signings one at a time, like in basketball? That makes sense from a bang-for-the-buck perspective, but might be unrealistic. It’s one thing when you’re bringing in two or three basketball players during the early signing period (which lasts a full week in November), another when it might be as many as two dozen football players in three days.

Or will they hold an early signing day press conference similar to those being held Wednesday, where the entire early class is unveiled at once? And are there any compliance issues that make football different from other sports? It doesn’t seem like there should be, but these matters do not always proceed logically.

Some of what next year looks like may depend on just how many players decide to sign early, and no one yet knows how that dynamic will evolve. Instead of one big day for everyone on the first Wednesday in February, there’s likely to be a lot of mid-December variation from school to school, and maybe even in February, too, depending on how things shake out.

Either way, there’s going to be a lot less suspense this time next year. To one degree or another, a good chunk of everyone’s recruiting class is going to be old news by February – not that signing day isn’t mostly old news already. Either way, Wednesday is the last of its kind, and that isn’t the worst thing in the world.

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

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