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Recent NCAA Reforms Could Affect Future of National Signing Day


The National Collegiate Athletic Association's board of directors approved a wave of reforms that have major implications for the future of the recruiting process for high school juniors and seniors.

National Signing Day, which is ongoing today, could also look substantially different in the coming years because of certain recently approved reforms.

The board's actions on Jan. 19 were meant to start the process of streamlining the organization's rulebook, something that NCAA President Mark Emmert has been eyeing for years.

Among other changes, the board voted to:

• "Remove limits on the number of coaches who can recruit off-campus at any one time" (Proposal 11-4);

• "Allow schools to treat prospects like student-athletes for purposes of applying recruiting regulations once a National Letter of Intent or signed offer of admission or financial aid is received" (13-1);

• "Eliminate restrictions on methods and modes of communication during recruiting" (13-3; effective July 1); and

• "Eliminate restrictions on publicity once a prospective student-athlete has signed a National Letter of Intent or written offer of financial aid or admission" (13-7).

Schools, conferences, or the NCAA will also soon be allowed to pay for the medical expenses of student-athletes. All these changes, except where otherwise noted, go into effect on Aug. 1.

"These new rules represent noteworthy progress toward what can only be described as more common sense rules that allow schools more discretion in decisionmaking," Emmert said in a Jan. 19 statement. "This vote by the board of directors refocuses our attention on the things that really matter, the core values of intercollegiate athletics."

The rules working group will now turn its attention to financial aid and playing- and practice-season rules, while continuing to make recommendations based on the changes made in this phase of the process.

In terms of recruiting, the rule change to 13-3 appears likely to be a game-changer. Previously, the NCAA had rules governing when representatives from colleges and universities were and weren't allowed to contact student-athletes. The 2012-13 NCAA Division I rulebook explains, for instance, that staff members from interested postsecondary institutions can't contact a student-athlete via telephone before July 1 after the completion of the prospect's junior year of high school. After that, staff members couldn't make more than one telephone call to a given prospect per week.

Now? Once prospects hit July 1 before their senior year, coaches can begin flooding them with text messages, Facebook messages, and direct Twitter messages like never before.

The rule change earned some harsh criticism from some in the field.

"I think it's horrible," said Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell to Sports Illustrated. "The toll it's going to take on college coaches—on their families, on any social life they may have, and the toll on [recruits] as well—is tremendous."

University of Arizona head football coach Rich Rodriguez told SI that "we're going to be like a bunch of teenage schoolchildren texting all the time."

"You're just going to have to say, 'I'm not doing this on Sundays, I'm not doing this on vacation,' " said Rodriguez. "But I know this. When I go on vacation, I'm going to have my phone with me, and if a top prospect texts me, you better believe I'm gonna text him back."

These reforms could also have a profound effect on the future of National Signing Day, as recently explained by John Infante, a longtime NCAA regulatory expert and author of the Bylaw Blog.

Infante highlights two proposals, 13-1 and 13-7, as allowing schools to turn "the simple act of signing a scholarship into a multiday extravaganza."

Currently, even the most high-profile prospects typically sign a National Letter of Intent during a press conference at their high school on Signing Day. Under the new rules, Infante expects that prospects could move their Signing Day press conferences off-campus so one of their future coaches can attend, then meet with boosters of the school during a weekend event a few days later.

SI's Stewart Mandel believes that the deregulation of coach-to-prospect contact could also have an impact on Signing Day. Based on what he's heard from coaches and analysts, he suggests that prospects could "shut down the [recruiting] process earlier due to fatigue."

"By the time we get to the formality of Signing Day 2015, coaches will have long since moved on to targeting the 2016 and '17 classes," Mandel explained in a Feb. 5 article.

So, enjoy your endless hours of live Signing Day coverage while you can. In a few years, the hoopla surrounding today could be shifting, based on these recently approved rule changes.

Photo: Grayson High School football player Robert Nkemdiche, center, is congratulated by classmates after his announcement to play college football for Ole Miss, during a signing ceremony on Wednesday in Grayson, Ga. (David Tulis/AP)

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