Ohio State coach Urban Meyer acknowledged Wednesday that he was "dead-set against" the implementation of an early signing period before it was put into place for this year.
After looking at the list of players Ohio State had signed on Wednesday morning, however, Meyer felt better about it.
"I'm looking at this right here, dead-set against what?" Meyer remarked, having already received 20 National Letters of Intent at the time of his press conference. "That's unbelievable."
Although the Buckeyes missed out on five-star recruits Jackson Carman and Jaiden Woodbey, Ohio State’s first early signing day ever was a largely successful one. The Buckeyes inked 20 players before 11 a.m. and added a 21st signee in Nebraska decommit Cameron Brown on Wednesday afternoon. As of Wednesday night, Ohio State’s class of 2018 was ranked as the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation in 247Sports’ composite rankings.
Even so, Meyer still expressed numerous concerns about the effects of the early signing period after going through it for the first time.
From Ohio State’s perspective, allowing recruits to sign their National Letters of Intent seven weeks before National Signing Day created a number of challenges, first and foremost being the time crunch the Buckeyes had to finalize the majority of their recruiting class less than three weeks after playing in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Meyer was grateful, though, for the way his coaching staff and recruiting staff responded to that challenge.
"I really want to thank our staff – and I don't normally do that, it's all about the player – but I can't remember the urgency that we’ve experienced today or this past two weeks," Meyer said. "You just start thinking about the time warp that took place, finishing the season that we had to finish the way we did, and then we played our rival and you play a Big Ten Championship Game, and by the way, signing date is two weeks away now.
"There were three weeks of recruiting. If you're in a championship game, you get two weeks of recruiting, and (director of player personnel) Mark Pantoni and his staff but really our coaching staff, I can't remember a December like that ever. So we've just got to plan, and that's the way it's going to be, but I just really appreciate our coaches."
Another challenge the early signing period presented to Ohio State was the uncertainty of how many recruits the Buckeyes could actually sign. Because Ohio State still has another game to play against USC in the Cotton Bowl next week, Meyer says there has been "very little, if any, conversation" about which Buckeyes could declare for early entry into the NFL draft. As a result, Meyer was forced to tell several players the Buckeyes were interested in that he might or might not have a scholarship available – forcing them, in turn, to sign elsewhere or risk losing their offers from those schools, too.
"What I've had happen to me is I've talked to several players and my answer to them, because we're straightforward with them, is that I don't know if I have a scholarship right now because I don't know who's leaving for the NFL draft," Meyer said. "And a couple times, more than a couple, I got a comment back saying, 'Coach, this school is telling me if I don't sign on the 20th, I'm out.' They're taking my scholarship offer, and that's not what the intent of the rule was.
"Here's a young person committed to a certain school, his dream is to go to a school that you can compete for a national title. However, the school that's competing in that level is saying 'I don't know, because there might be five guys leave for the NFL draft. But you know what, also there might not be five guys.' So what do you do? You're honest with them. And the comment back is, 'I think I have to sign with this because what if they pull my scholarship, I'm stuck with nothing.'"
On the bright side of the equation, Ohio State now has an impressive class of 21 recruits – including two five-stars and 16 four-stars – that it does not have to worry about decommitting over the next seven weeks.
"My understanding was early signing was for the Jaelen Gill's of the world, a kid that grew up in Columbus, Ohio, wants to be a Buckeye his entire life, and he's going to sign so you don't have to babysit him for the next two months, which I think that's very appropriate and admirable," Meyer said.
Depending on how many current Buckeyes do ultimately leave for the NFL draft after the Cotton Bowl, Ohio State could still end up signing a few additional recruits on Feb. 7, the traditional National Signing Day, too. Meyer also hinted Wednesday that the Buckeyes are "holding onto" a 22nd signing from an in-state prospect who has yet to announce his commitment.
But for a coach who has had success in the past with successfully recruiting players – particularly in-state players who the Buckeyes might have waited to offer until knowing who was going pro – the reality is that there might be not much available talent left for the Buckeyes to pursue after this week.
"They won't be available," Meyer said in regards to the type of players that Ohio State used to pursue in late January. "They're signed."
Regardless of how the Buckeyes close out the 2018 recruiting cycle, Ohio State is already assured of having one of the nation’s best recruiting classes once again this year. Even if the early signing period cost the Buckeyes a chance at a couple players they otherwise might have landed, Ohio State’s 2018 recruiting class will still leave its roster in good shape, and Meyer knows that.
So Meyer doesn’t want to complain about the early signing period, because he’s still evaluating how it affects his program. He does think, however, that the early signing period should continue to be evaluated to ensure that it is working in the best interest of the recruits.
"We all have to remember that there's one person that really counts in this, and it's not me, it's not you, it's not the assistant coaches, it's not the university: it's the player. The player is making a life-changing decision," Meyer said. "So I just think those are good conversation pieces. If we always remember, the only thing that really matters is that young person gets to go to the best place he can possibly go and that he wants to go. And if that works out, then I think it's a good situation."