Margin called, gentlemen.

In John Helyar’s book, Lords of the Realm, a history of baseball’s labor relations, Helyar recounts a story when the baseball owners are faced with how the market for players’ services will have to be reshaped in the wake of free agency. As they bicker, Charlie Finley advises them to simply make all the players free agents. (The owners despised Finley, so they ignored his advise.)

Along the same provocative lines, SI.com’s Andy Staples has a proposal for college football with regard to an early signing day for recruits: eliminate signing day entirely.

… Eliminate Signing Day entirely. Let coaches sign players whenever they want. The idea may sound irresponsible, but in practice, it would force coaches to exercise more caution lest they gamble away an entire recruiting class. They would have to consider all the ramifications before making an offer. A coach can sign a 300-pound offensive tackle after the prospect’s junior season, but if one of those all-you-can-eat buffets with the oh-so-delicious yeast rolls opens next to his school and Tiny balloons to 600 pounds in the ensuing 16 months, that coach had better order an XXXXXXL practice jersey, because he’s stuck with the butterball.

Coaches in every sport complain now because NCAA rules limiting contact don’t allow them to get to know prospects or their families before they extend a scholarship offer. Yet despite those complaints, they offer those precious scholarships earlier every year. They argue that they lose a competitive advantage if they don’t offer first. Kentucky basketball coach Billy Gillispie accepted commitments last month from an eighth-grader and a ninth-grader. Is it too far-fetched to believe that football coaches won’t start accepting commitments from 10th graders on a regular basis?

The only way for the NCAA to combat this practice is to embrace it. Want to offer a high-school freshman? Go ahead. But you can’t send him some empty promise. You have to send him a national Letter of Intent. If he signs, you promise one of your 85 scholarships to him for at least a year, and he promises to attend your school for at least a year, whether you’re there or not…

It’s perverse, but I can see the twisted logic to it, especially when he argues this point:

… Put this plan into action, and the number of early offers would plummet. Think about it. College coaches are like the lotharios who say “I love you” — even if they only kind of mean it — to court a woman. Would those guys toss out that phrase so carelessly if the law required them to follow that declaration immediately with the offer of a diamond solitaire and a proposal of marriage? No. And if college football coaches knew the acceptance of their offer would immediately cost them one scholarship, they wouldn’t hand out 200 offers for a 25-man class.

Thought provoking, no? Lord knows what rules changes the NCAA would have to make to catch up.

The perverse part? Academics. Some coaches might find themselves in the position of rooting for a player to fail so that they wouldn’t have to follow through on the offer.

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UPDATE: Damn, the idea is starting to make the rounds.

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