Early signing day is almost here, but why have a college football signing day at all?


By Teddy Greenstein - Chicago Tribune



Perhaps some would deem it flattering to receive texts and direct messages from Notre Dame officials bearing the message “PLS PLAY FOR THE IRISH.”

But Devin O’Rourke can do without the ego boost, thank you very much. O’Rourke is the stud defensive end prospect from Lincoln-Way East in Illinois who verbally committed to Northwestern in March and will sign with the Wildcats on Wednesday.

In the past, high school seniors had to wait until early February to officially pledge their allegiance, giving spurned coaches another six to seven weeks to try to “flip” them. The Irish have kept trying with O’Rourke, a four-star recruit also offered by Wisconsin and Penn State.

But a new NCAA rule allows recruits to sign letters of intent from Wednesday to Friday.

“I think it’s awesome,” O’Rourke said by telephone. “A lot of players and coaches don’t want to have to wait to set it in stone. It’s a relief, actually.”

Northwestern plans to introduce 15 to 17 signees Wednesday and could add another half-dozen in February. That final tally will depend on how many Wildcats seek a fifth year after playing in the Dec. 29 Music City Bowl.

Alabama coach Nick Saban blasted the new early signing period, saying he needs December to prepare his team for a semifinal playoff game.

“It was very stressful for a lot of coaches to see as many (recruits) as they could in December and accelerate everything,” Saban said. “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.”

But it does.

“It’s great for young men and their families, especially for guys who made a decision months ago and can get this done before the holidays,” NU coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “It solidifies it even more that we do not need a signing day.”

Fitzgerald’s idea: Once a coach extends a scholarship offer to a player, the school enters it into a database. After a 48-hour cooling-off period, the player can accept the offer. So if he would prefer to sign in August and give full attention to his football season and Advanced Placement classes, he can.

“We have the technology to do it,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m offering you. Click. And everyone knows I’ve offered you. You can’t sign for 48 hours, so I can’t pressure you. Sign whenever you want. To me, that would help kids, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Powerhouse programs such as Alabama and Ohio State generally oppose any form of early signing for two reasons: The more heat they can apply, the more likely they can flip a player. And more of their players go pro early, but they don’t know which ones until January.

Ohio State expects to ink about 17 players this week, but coach Urban Meyer said he is “absolutely opposed” to early signing.

“Young people have a right to choose where they want to go to school, period,” he said. “Let ‘em decommit 100 times.

“I don’t understand this big push. There will be more mistakes made in recruiting (by schools) and by kids, so you’ll see more transfers. … My kid (Nate) has gained 20 pounds in the last six months. Bodies change. I want to watch ‘em play their senior year.”

Seniors still can wait until Feb. 7 to sign, but O’Rourke is among those who do not need more time. He has been receiving offers since March 2016.

NU coaches extended an offer that June. They are said to love his size (6-foot-6, 240 pounds), mental makeup, academic prowess and athleticism, thinking he can develop into the next Dean Lowry, who starts for the Packers.

O’Rourke got double- and triple-teamed by blockers during Lincoln-Way East’s Class 8A state championship victory over Loyola last month. He didn’t mind.

“It happened all year,” he said. “It’s kind of a respect factor.”

But he would appreciate less attention when it comes to rival college coaches.

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By Teddy Greenstein

Chicago Tribune