FCS recruiting picture clears up under new rules
By CRAIG HALEY
(STATS) - The three-day December signing period that debuted across Division I college football was so successful that this week's start of the traditional period will be anticlimactic at many programs.
More so on the FBS level than the FCS, but FCS coaching staffs signed their fair share of early commitments. Plus, they've enjoyed extra clarity with their recruiting during the weeks leading up to Wednesday, long known as National Letter of Intent Day and the start of a signing period that lasts until April 1.
Make no mistake, the main signing period has switched to December, which this recruiting season was held from Dec. 20-22 and allowed a high school senior to sign a binding agreement with a college program and remove himself from the recruiting market.
The earlier signing period produced staggering results. Compared to the percentage of NLI signings on average the last two years, the NCAA reported FBS programs filled 91 percent of their Class of 2018 scholarships, and it was 98 percent among Power 5 schools.
NLIs signed at FCS schools in December were 41 percent of the two-year average, still considered an excellent first effort in the subdivision. According to STATS research, 83 FCS programs announced having at least one high school signee, while other programs simply announced midyear college transfers, as they could in past years.
"It has been really positive for us," Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon said. "We were able to sign six kids during this period and we like it thus far. It has allowed us to see a clear picture of who can still be recruited, who to spend energy on and how to proceed into the latter half of winter recruiting."
Teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference were the most active, with nine of the 10 announcing between 12 to 26 signees (Indiana State had the highest total).
Across the FCS, 38 programs announced double-figure signees, including both high school seniors and college transfers.
"One of the main things we've learned is that when somebody wants to wear a logo of their choice and wants to go to a specific school, this enables them to do it early," Eastern Washington coach Aaron Best said. "They don't have to hear from other institutions for the next six weeks, during which the pressure just mounts and builds for other recruits. (Before the December signing period existed), even if a player verbals in January, they are getting calls from other schools asking for another shot and to compare themselves to us."
After the early signing period, FCS coaches found January to be less stressful. With so many NLIs fulfilled on the FBS level, Big Brother hasn't loomed over the FCS recruiting as much as in past years. Too often in the past, it was common for seniors to flip on their verbal commitments or to keep FCS coaches at their mercy while they waited on an FBS scholarship offer before the first Wednesday in February.
Idaho coach Paul Petrino, whose program is moving down to the FCS, said his signing class included several players whose verbal commitments wouldn't have held up against FBS schools if the Vandals had to wait until Wednesday to sign them. While there's still competition after the early signing period, the players and schools know sooner how serious each was about the other.
"By and large, I think the early signing period provides clarity (for the traditional period), especially in a state like Montana," Montana State coach Jeff Choate said. "There are good players in our state, but Montana kids, in general, don't get a lot of looks from outside the state, so getting in-state recruiting handled in the early period gives us direction going into January and February."
"As it's moved into the second phase (of signing periods), there aren't quite as many schools, especially BCS schools, that are out there throwing scholarships around," Delaware coach Danny Rocco said. "When you are talking to a student-athlete that's still on the market, that guy that hadn't signed yet, the interest becomes very real very quickly and you could get some traction as we headed into the February signing day."
The comfort level of December signings figures to strengthen among recruits and coaches moving forward. Strategies on both ends - including earlier official visits - will change as well.
But the earlier commitments in Division I have been widely embraced by players and coaches alike.
(This is the first of a two-part story about the FCS recruiting cycle.)
Updated February 5, 2018