The NCAA recently wrapped up the early signing period for college-bound student-athletes. This signing period allowed basketball, baseball, softball, track and field, tennis and wrestling prospects to sign national letters of intent to formally decide which college to attend.
I played high school ball in Missouri--one of the few states that maintains softball as a fall sport. I knew my performance each game was under the microscope and that a scholarship offer could depend on it. Conversely, for athletes that play a winter or spring sport, signing early means there's no pressure to catch the eye of a college scout during their last high school season.
For college coaches it means they can lock their roster early in the academic year so they can dedicate all of their time and energy to the current season. If they haven't signed enough recruits to complete their roster for next season, they must worry about continuing the recruiting process on top of coaching duties for the current season.
Seven years ago this week, I signed my letter of intent in a small conference room at my high school in the presence of my family, high school coaches and athletic administration. I felt very fortunate to formalize my commitment to attend Loyola University Chicago on a softball scholarship during the fall of my senior year. It had been my goal to negotiate an offer and make it official during the early signing period so that I could enjoy my senior year without the stress of the recruiting process
Not every student-athlete makes a decision regarding their collegiate career during the early signing period. According to the NCAA, about half of the nearly 20,000 signees from the 2007-2008 academic year signed during the early period. However, signing early does seem to be on the rise. Those 9,805 student-athletes marked an eight percent increase in early signees from the year before.
Athletes that don't sign during the early signing period need not panic--some voluntarily wait until the late period to sign. The next signing period runs from April until August. The extra time allows recruits who aren't completely satisfied with their choices the opportunity to improve their situation.
Prospects will have time to scrutinize potential schools and get a better idea of how they might fit into a program for the next season. For example, in my four years of playing there were several major changes to the lineup that took place during the spring season as well as in the summer. We had a talented player get kicked off the team, a head coach accept a job at another school and two of our best and most integral players--a pitcher and a catcher--transferred. This drastically altered the composition of our team and program and affected our recruiting needs for the next year significantly.
In addition to seeing how one would fit into next season's depth chart more accurately, waiting allows an athlete to use their senior season to further their marketability in the eyes of college coaches.
While I am a proponent of settling the deal early, there are important aspects to consider for both committing early and waiting until the spring to sign. In the end, it depends on the individual student-athlete and how comfortable they are with their decision. Good luck to those that have signed already and to those who hope to in the spring.