Thoughts of the day: February 5, 2014

A few thoughts to jump start your National Signing Day morning.

It wasn’t until 1981 that there was such a thing as National Signing Day. Until then, each conference set its own day for conference letters of intent. The SEC held its signing day the second Saturday in December and recruits signed a conference letter of intent, which only bound them to that school in that particular conference. For example, a kid could sign a scholarship with Florida which would preclude signing with another school in the SEC but didn’t stop the kid from also signing with Ohio State of the Big Ten. That kind of thing happened far more than you can imagine.

It was at the 1980 coaches convention that The College Football Association, formed by 64 schools in 1977, proposed a National Letter of Intent to eliminate kids from signing scholarships with multiple schools. There were also early signing days prior to 1981 but after the vote of the CFA to eliminate the conference LOI in favor of a national LOI, the NCAA came up with the first National Signing Day, which was the third Wednesday in February.

National Signing Day was moved to the first Wednesday in February a few years later and it has remained there ever since.

As the years have gone by, National Signing Day has taken on more importance nationally. It’s always been a very big deal in the south, but I think that has to do with the fact that football has always been a bigger deal in the south than it is anywhere else. In the South, National Signing Day is almost a national holiday. Do you have a hacking cough today that appeared out of nowhere? I’m constantly amazed at how many people take sick days on National Signing Day.

Recruiting was always important, even when there were no recruiting rules, but when the NCAA started limiting scholarship numbers in 1973 and then followed it up with the advent of the National Letter of Intent in 1981, it created what has become a recruiting cottage industry as well as what has grown into a third football season, particularly in the south. In the south it was once stated that there are five very important sports seasons – (1) football; (2) recruiting; (3) spring football; (4) basketball and (5) baseball.

In that order.

With so many kids committing during the summer when they go on campus for football camps or play on the 7-on-7 circuits that are starting to turn into the equivalent of another AAU basketball circuit, it’s hard to define a specific recruiting season anymore, but interest reaches a peak in the month of January and in the days and weeks that lead to the first Wednesday in February. That time from the national championship game until National Signing Day has become such an intense time that it bleeds over to the kids who are making the most important decisions of their young lives.

I call it “The Silly Season” and it comes to an end today when kids start faxing in their National Letters of Intent. Hold that thought for a second. How many of you still own a fax machine? The only reason I still have one is because there is a fax function in my multi-use device which also prints, scans and copies. When is the last time you actually sent or received a fax?

At 7 a.m. the LOI’s will start arriving but there will also be hundreds of press conferences and signing day ceremonies nationwide. This is the part that gets silly. Kids will try to get their 15 minutes of fame by putting 5-6 hats on a table and then trying on all of them before they pick one that remains on their heads. In some cases, mothers will break down in tears because they believe their kid has just made a fatal mistake.

Back in 2006, Union County’s US Army All-American running back C.J. Spiller was all set to sign with Florida. C.J. had been talking long and hard with Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Brandon Spikes and Corey Hobbes at the Army game in San Antonio. The night before signing day, C.J. and Tebow talked at length. He was going to be a Gator and everybody knew it.

Especially C.J.’s mom.

Then he chose Clemson at a signing day ceremony at the Union County High School gym. Mom was distraught and broken hearted. Tears flowed and wouldn’t stop. Florida went on to win the national championships in 2006 and 2008 without him. Had C.J. made his mama proud that day, the Gators probably would have been one of the greatest offensive machines even seen. Instead he went to Clemson and never won an ACC title much less a national championship.

Somewhere today, some kid will break his mama’s heart and confound everybody by choosing a school that nobody expected. Somewhere today, some kid will call coaches 30 minutes before their press conference to say I’m coming to good old State U only to choose another school and shock the world.

In 2006, Antonio Logan-El was making his National Signing Day announcement at the ESPN Zone in Baltimore. He was a lock for Maryland. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen’s wife was there expecting to celebrate with other Maryland fans. When it came time to announce, Logan-El whipped out a picture of himself with Joe Paterno and signed with Penn State.

Will Muschamp is hoping the Gators don’t have that kind of drama today. Muschamp and his staff have worked feverishly the last several weeks to shore up a class that will finish in the top ten but could wind up in the top five if Adoree’ Jackson, Damian Prince and Treon Harris, among others, sign on the dotted line of a Florida National Letter of Intent.

Muschamp is a methodical, relentless recruiter and this class holds promise for the future for the Gators. Once the last fax is in, Muschamp and his coaches can take a couple of well-deserved days off, but that’s about all the rest they’ll get. In another three or four days they will be hitting the recruiting trail even harder. It’s only 11 months before the 2015 Silly Season begins and 12 months until the next National Signing Day.



On the way to the Florida-Missouri basketball game at the O-Dome Tuesday night, I had Steely Dan’s “Countdown to Ecstasy” on the CD. Just as I pulled into my parking space, “My Old School” came on. I had to sit there and sing along. You just don’t get out of the car when “My Old School” starts playing. I enjoyed singing along so much that when I drove home after the game, I replayed it.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.