Paterno Against Early Signing Period

June 9, 2008 10:28:25 AM PDT
Count Joe Paterno among the opponents of an early signing period in college football. Southeastern Conference football coaches voted 9-3 last month in favor of asking their league to support an early signing period for late November, similar to a system used in basketball. The coaches presented their case to SEC athletic directors to be considered as national legislation.

"I don't like it," Paterno said Saturday before a dinner for Penn State alumni and boosters in suburban Harrisburg. "I would change some things about when you can talk to kids and when you can't talk to them, but I'm not for the early signing date."

Responding to a question on the issue during a news conference, Paterno said he worried about the impact an early signing period could have during the season, especially if recruits were to come in for official visits during weeks of big games. The proposal supported by SEC coaches, however, applies to prep prospects who have not made any official visits. They would have one day before the start of the official contact period on Dec. 1 to sign a binding national letter of intent.

"We do a terrible job when kids come up for official visits for a game," he said. "Now other people do a good job, and maybe they got a bigger staff, or maybe their staff is organized differently."

The current system allows early "verbal" commitments to get out of that commitment before Signing Day, typically in early February.

A recruit who commits verbally "can go through a season, and some things happen ... coaches leave, different things may influence his decision and it gives him a second chance to rethink it," Paterno said. "I think he feels more comfortable he's made the right decision the way we have it now."

When talking to recruits, Paterno said "I don't want to turn into a used car salesman. ... We're dealing with a young man's life, and we'd like to be able to present the situation as best we can, and as honestly as we can."

Paterno said he is pleased with the Nittany Lions' own recruiting efforts so far. Rules forbid him about talking about specific prospects now, though Penn State has landed verbal commitments from several highly regarded recruits, according to recruiting analysts.

The 81-year-old coach said he doesn't think the team's recent off-the-field problems, or speculation about when Paterno might retire, has affected recruiting.

Paterno is old enough to be a grandfather to many of the teens he's trying to convince to come to Happy Valley. He said his message to recruits emphasizes "the kind of staff we have, the tradition we have, and not necessarily who is going to be running the show."

Paterno did give fans a brief scare last month after being treated for dehydration at a State College hospital for several hours. He bounced back quickly and was back on his regular schedule the next day.

Paterno said he's been gulping down energy drinks lately "until it comes out of my ears," in part due to his wife's insistence.

"I've been a good boy, all right," he said with a chuckle. "I've done what the doctors have told me."