FCS programs set to adjust more with recruiting changes
By CRAIG HALEY
STATS FCS Senior Editor
(STATS) - As Division I college football shifts to its second recruiting signing period, coaching staffs already are planning adjustments with the new early period and changing NCAA bylaws.
Wednesday is the first day of the traditional signing period, when a high school senior can ink a National Letter of Intent as a binding commitment to his college program of choice. Signings will continue until April 1.
In December, a three-day signing period was introduced for the first time, and it was embraced by student-athletes and college programs in a big way, especially on the FBS level.
In the FCS, 83 schools announced signings and the NCAA said the number of early NLIs was 41 percent of those signed on average the last two years.
"It takes a lot of pressure off the month of January," said coach Mike Houston of FCS runner-up James Madison. "I don't think you realized how much it would change the month of January. Now all of a sudden, instead of running around trying to sign or keep committed 16 or however many kids, you're really only managing two or three. In our situation, because you signed 13 back in December, it does allow you to really focus on those two or three guys really hard."
The December signing period has put extra emphasis on getting out in front of recruiting. The programs often host seniors for recruiting weekends, and they've traditionally been favored in December and January. But this past fall, some programs accelerated the hosting of recruits to gain quicker verbal commitments and, ultimately, December signings.
It's a juggling act that can stretch college programs thin in-season.
"The struggle I have here is that our recruiting is based on relationships, so it's hard for us when we are preparing for a game on Saturday," Eastern Washington coach Aaron Best said. "They are not going to see a ton of us as coaches, and they are going to be hosted by redshirts and others not playing. So they are not around the nucleus of what our locker room really entails. A veteran player can give a recruit three years of data a recruit instead of three months of data, and I think that's important. You want to ask questions and get as much as you can from a player who has a lot of experience."
Said Houston: "There's no doubt the one thing that is the most noticeable to us is we're going to have to do more in-season official visits. Especially if we end up continuing to play deep into the playoffs, you don't have those December weekends for official visits, like so many of the FBS schools do or some of the FCS teams that aren't deep playoff teams."
Beginning this spring, some of the concerns can be alleviated by additional NCAA reform. Schools will have the opportunity to host juniors for official visits, starting on April 1 and continuing to the last Wednesday in June. Previously, the visits couldn't occur before the start of the senior year, so the change will afford a student-athlete a longer recruiting window to make an informed decision.
Its use is expected to be greater on the FBS level than the FCS. However, with all the new rules, D-I programs that get the bulk of their recruits signed in December are spending time in January making assessments for the following year's signing class.
"We can get on our 2019 class sooner because we have half of our class signed in December," Best said. "In January, we can kind of multitask a bit by sewing up a few more 2018 players and then hit the ground running on the 2019 class. We want to speed things up and have an idea of where we are going to earmark our guys when we get out in the spring."
While the traditional signing period has been made anticlimactic at many programs, the earlier recruiting process - embraced by players and schools alike - is here to stay.
(This is the second of a two-part story about the FCS recruiting cycle.)
Updated February 6, 2018