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It's time for early signing period

More than three years ago, the American Football Coaches Association released a proposal for an early signing period in college football. They also released a poll that said 73 percent of FBS coaches supported it.

But little has been done on the proposal since.

While the AFCA and conference commissioners spin their wheels, the need for an early signing period continues to grow as more prospects commit early and fewer use their allotted five official visits.

The soon to be 14 schools in the Southeastern Conference already have a total of 124 commitments. Nationally, 112 of 247Sports’ Top247 prospects have already committed.

Eleven teams have double-digit commitments, led by Michigan with 18. Georgia has 15 commitments for 2013 and already leads the way with three commitments for the 2014 class - players who are finishing up their sophomore year of high school.

Under the current system, all those players and the many more who will commit this summer before the start of their senior seasons will have to wait another five or six months to sign.

During this time other schools will continue to recruit, visit and contact the prospect while the school he is committed to will have to continue to recruit him as though he remained uncommitted.

That’s not the only part of the current system that’s needs an overhaul. With the increased number of unofficial visits by prospects in the spring, summer and fall, those prospects and schools are using fewer official visits.

Of the top 25 prospects in the 247Sports’ 2012 rankings only four - Arik Armstead, Stefon Diggs, Ronald Darby and Keith Marshall - used all five of their official visits. Those 25 5-stars averaged 2.7 visits apiece, with close to half (12) using two or fewer officials.

A look at the top 15 classes in the 2012 rankings showed just three schools that used more than 40 of their 56 allotted official visits - Michigan (48), Notre Dame (42) and Florida (42). The average was 32, with Georgia using fewer than 20.

The biggest failing of the AFCA proposal was having the signing date in early December, just two months before the regular signing day in February.

Agreeing on the right date for an early signing period remains the biggest point of contention, but the summer makes the most sense for players who want to get their recruitment out of the way before starting their senior year and coaches that would like to spend more of their time preparing for games during the fall.

With that in mind, here is my proposal...

* Reduce the number of official visits schools can offer from 56 to 40 and reduce the player’s official visits from five to four.

* Set an early signing period for one week starting with the last Wednesday in July.

* Allow prospects to use a maximum of two official visits in July and open up a short window for official visits the 12 days before the early signing period, which will give each prospect two full weekends.

* Allow early signees a window of a few days in early January to void their NLI with no penalty if the head coach at their school leaves.

The biggest negative of a late summer signing period is having it cut into the one time a year coaches can get away with their families for a real vacation. That’s why I would have one additional proposal...

* A dead period from the last week of June to the start of the official visit period in mid July.

That would give coaches approximately a three-week window to get away from the grind and still leave three weeks in June for camps and unofficial visits. I’d make this a real dead period - no calls, no emails, no Facebook messages - to give the coaches and prospects some real downtime.

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