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Nostalgia is for the weak. For losers, geeks. It’s the lowest form of conversation. A lie, disease, heckuva drug. Ask a handful of people or consult Google, and you’ll find one of those answers.
But like your favorite food or drink, nostalgia is good in moderation. And for college football fans, there may be no stronger feeling to something in the past than recounting the old February national signing day.
The 2020 recruiting cycle effectively ended Wednesday, and it featured the twists and turns we’ve come to love.
4-star defensive end McKinnley Jackson turned a few heads by picking Texas A&M over Alabama. 4-star safety Avantae Williams pulled a flat-out stunner when he chose Miami instead of Florida. 4-star defensive end Princely Umanmielen left the Lone Star State for Florida, passing up Baylor and Texas.
5-star defensive lineman Jordan Burch committed to South Carolina during the December signing period but didn’t sign. His dramatic recruitment continued Wednesday, and we’ll get to that.
But the overall atmosphere is so, so different.
Heading into the day, only three top-100 players—Williams, Jackson and 4-star defensive end Alfred Collins—were uncommitted. Four others—Burch, 5-star offensive tackle Broderick Jones, 4-star center Sedrick Van Pran and 4-star running back Jahmyr Gibbs—were unsigned, but they all stuck with their verbal pledge.
While those announcements were important, the limited number also didn’t necessitate the wall-to-wall coverage of the past.
That is undoubtedly the biggest difference.
As signing day’s popularity rose sharply in the early 2010s, a variety of outlets devoted hours of coverage through TV broadcasts, live online reactions, commitment videos and more. Starting at 7 a.m. ET, recruiting news dominated sports headlines for about 12 hours.
Fans set alarms to flip on ESPNU. College students followed along during class. Workplaces lost thousands of productivity hours as people monitored the decisions of teenagers.
Plus, highly rated players would announce their decisions in many different ways and in many places. The environment was so competitive that ESPN’s Matt Schick even called B/R “another website out there that specializes in videos” in the midst of a confusing recruitment.
Internet beef! Harmless, yet entirely a product of the mayhem that was February’s signing day.
Compare that to Wednesday, when ESPNU showed recent games between Duke and North Carolina for eight hours. Signing day snuck in a one-hour special before another UNC/Duke replay. And in December, signing day had five hours of coverage.
The times, they are a-changin’.
Yes, February still offers plenty of excitement, which has kept the first Wednesday of the month an integral piece of the college football calendar.
Take Burch, for example. After not signing in December, he consistently entertained interest from LSU over the past six weeks. On Wednesday, he stuck with the Gamecocks during a ceremony South Carolina that head coach Will Muschamp attended.
Can you imagine Burch flipping to LSU in front of Muschamp? That would be peak signing-day drama. However, the story—even if only briefly—didn’t end there.
That kind of drama popularized signing day.
But now, much of this commotion will happen in December. Since a huge majority of prospects sign during the early period, the eye-catching flips or surprising commits are done then.
The differences are that, instead of providing fireworks worthy of a Fourth of July celebration, February’s signing period has become a sparkler sendoff at the end of a wedding reception. While it’s a nice conclusion, you know the party is already over.
As fans moved past the national title and waited for spring practice, February provided a welcomed jolt to fandom. That happens on a much lesser scale now.
We aren’t distressed about the change. But the nostalgia will remain.