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Minnesota Football & P.J. Fleck will benefit from NCAA’s new early signing period

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The new NCAA rules should help Minnesota sign better recruiting classes

Coach PJ Fleck

Some big news was announced earlier today that should improve parity in NCAA and thus should help the Minnesota Golden Gophers recruit even better under P.J. Fleck:

The big news here is the approval of an early signing period for football. What does that mean exactly?

The NCAA’s Division I Council voted to approve a propsal that would allow an early college football National Signing Day rule Friday, setting up the Conference Commissioners Association (CCA) to give final approval in June.

The existing date of the first Wednesday in February will remain, but to it will be added a date right before Christmas, coinciding with the traditional junior college signing date. In 2016, that would have meant Dec. 14, but in 2017, will be Dec. 20. The new signing window would last for three days.

Right now the only time high school football recruits can sign a letter of intent with a school is on the traditional National Signing Day in February of their senior year. Now with the new rule, HS recruits will have the ability to sign their LOI in December of their senior year as well.

Will this help Minnesota?

The answer to this is almost certainly yes. As we all know, Minnesota is not a blue chip program. We are not Alabama, we are not Ohio State, we are not Michigan. Even if P.J. Fleck gets the Gophers recruiting at a level we’ve never seen, Minnesota will still face hurdles and challenges in the recruiting game. An early signing window removes one of those hurdles and should level the playing field a little bit.

Avoiding late flips

A key part of recruiting well at Minnesota is identifying the players you want early on and then building strong relationships with them. Talent evaluation is a key skill to succeeding here. This is something Jerry Kill and his staff tended to excel at, and it’s something that Coach Fleck has stressed as important in his approach as well.

Some of the players you identify early will be highly recruited by other schools. Others will not. If you’re recruiting players which fall into the latter category, an early signing period gives you the chance to get those players officially committed before a power program can swoop in late with an offer before NSD. Having this rule in place a couple of years ago would have allowed Jerry Kill to get talented DB Nate Andrews to the Twin Cities before the Florida State Seminoles could offer. But even when you’re recruiting players that other schools are after (a category which we’ve seen a distinct rise in under Fleck), an early signing period can help.

One of the strengths you hear mentioned about Fleck as a recruiter from multiple sources is his ability to build relationships with recruits. His personalty might not be for everyone, but it also appears that many recruits who do buy into Fleck’s culture REALLY buy in. The ability to get some of these recruits to sign Letters of Intent in December should help Fleck defend his classes against continued recruitment from other P5 programs.

A new spring visit window

I’m not sure if you’re aware, but it gets cold in Minnesota. While this fact is often vastly overblown, it’s still a thing that exists and if you’re recruiting a kid from Florida it’s probably not a strong factor in the U’s favor. The new early signing window also allows players to begin official visits earlier, in April through June of their junior year of high school. This means that starting in 2018, Coach Fleck can get prospective players on campus for paid visits at a time of year where Minnesota tends to look pretty good versus one where the weather can be less ideal.

Fleck can close stronger

There is really no way to know how many verbal commits in a given class will sign in December for Minnesota in the coming years. Under Kill and Claeys I would have to say the number would have been pretty high. Under Fleck, my guess is that a substantial number of the players will still commit early, but probably a lower number than Kill would have seen. This will be due to Fleck pursuing more highly sought after recruits on balance than the last two staffs.

Regardless, any players signing their LOI’s early gives Fleck and his staff more clarity. They’ll know which guys still aren’t 100% ready to be Gophers. As a result, they know exactly who they need to be targeting with their attention. Early signing also means that for the last 6 weeks of the recruiting calendar the staff isn’t having to divide their resources as much. Instead of filling/maintaining/defending a class of 20+ guys (on average) they may only be working with 10 or 7 or 5. All of this means that they can use their recruiting talents more efficiently and should ideally result in better classes. At the very worst, I certainly don’t see this hurting Minnesota in any tangible way.

TL;DR

The NCAA will let high school seniors sign their football letters of intent in December as well as February and on the whole this is good news for the Gophers.