Ever since the NCAA announced the inaugural three-day early signing period that began Wednesday, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has been a critic.
Meyer preferred the prior system, in which players could enroll early but the only official signing day came in the first week of February.
“I was really dead set against it,” Meyer said Wednesday.
It would be a mistake to say Meyer has reversed his thinking, but he now sees it’s not such a disaster. Meyer pulled out the list of blue-chip players who are now officially Buckeyes, prospects who Ohio State doesn’t have to worry about being poached in the next six weeks.
“I'm looking at this right here, (thinking), ‘Dead set against what? That's unbelievable.’ But I think there's going to be some very good dialogue (about early signing), and I want to listen.”
Meyer said an early signing period makes sense for a player who’s sold on his college and wants to end the recruiting process.
“My understanding was, early signing was for the Jaelen Gills of the world, a kid that grew up in Columbus, Ohio, wants to be a Buckeye his entire life, and he's going to sign,” he said. “So you don't have to babysit him for the next two months, which I think that's very appropriate and admirable.”
But there are “several” downsides to having an early signing period, Meyer said. For coaches in the midst of bowl preparation, particularly those whose teams played in conference championship games, it has made for a hectic month.
“I can't remember a December like that, ever,” Meyer said. “So we've just got to plan, and that's the way it's going to be. I just really appreciate our coaches and their families because they were gone (recruiting after the Big Ten title game).”
Alabama’s Nick Saban, whose team plays Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal, is an adamant opponent of an early signing period.
“It was very stressful for a lot of coaches to see as many (recruits) as they could in December and accelerate everything,” Saban said in a Chicago Tribune story. “You don’t have very much time to do that. If you’re playing in a championship game, you have even less time to do it. I don’t see how it benefits anybody.”
In recent years, Ohio State has signed several players who were late bloomers. The extra time to evaluate and develop a relationship proved vital in taking players like Robert Landers. The undersized defensive tackle had committed to West Virginia before starring in Huber Heights Wayne’s 2014 playoff run.
The Buckeyes had enough time to court Landers and flip him by February.
In the new system, a player like Landers might decide to take the existing scholarship offer rather than wait for one that might not materialize from a dream school.
“They won't be available,” Meyer said. “They're signed.”
Another issue is that programs like Ohio State that regularly send underclassmen to the NFL don’t know how many scholarships they’ll have left. The deadline for applying for the NFL draft is Jan. 15. If fewer players than anticipated enter the draft, scholarship spots aren’t available.
“We're trying to fill a roster (when) I can't tell you who's leaving, who's coming,” Meyer said. “I have some ideas, and there's been preliminary talk, but certainly you talk about life-changing decisions for those (potentially NFL-bound) guys and life-changing decisions for young people, the prospects.
“I just feel when you start squeezing people's time, I just don't know if that's the right thing to do. But I'm anxious to see how it all works out.”