The average sports fan believes the NCAA first instituted a National Signing Day for Division 1 football in the mid 1960's, in response to student-athletes changing their minds right up to the point of Summer or Fall enrollment. That's a false premise. While it's true that this occurred, officially, in 1964 in the United States, the whole truth is that the NCAA has used these methods for thousands of years. Let's review a few of the seminal moments from the NCAA's history.
The NCAA organized its first Signing Day around 3,000 BC. Back then, the NCAA was known as "Pharaoh", and conscripted the first male child of every Israelite family into service on the pyramids, in exchange for unleavened bread and routine beatings. Withholding pay, argued the NCAA, allowed the Israelites to maintain the principles of amateurism in pyramid construction, which improved their inner fortitude, and benefited their overall life education.
The NCAA earned the title 'Thirty Tyrants' after overthrowing the Athenian democracy and installing themselves in an oligarchy. The NCAA prosecuted Socrates for 'corruption of youth' and 'espousing false gods', and had Socrates sentenced to death. Before drinking hemlock poison, Socrates texted "#culture" to his followers.
Having extended its reach from early Egypt and Greece into mainland Europe, the NCAA pioneered the breeding of rats "as a means to cleansing the trash from our cities - both physical and moral trash". Unfortunately, the NCAA's plan backfired, as the rat population spread the Black Plague, killing tens if not hundreds of millions. The NCAA would claim otherwise, though, pointing out that, after the millions of bodies were burned, the trash levels in cities did actually decrease.
February 6th, 1737
Perhaps the most well known signing day occurred February 6th, 1737. That year a 20-year old Swedish woman named Alle Bjansven, who had been the hoop-and-stick champion in her village of Kjelljcksven, desperately sought a way to America, but could not afford it. She was a 5-star recruit, as rated by the three largest services back then, and all the richest colonists had made offers.
Bjansven verbally committed to Col. Partridge of South Carolina in August of 1736, but then on National Signing Day, with three colonial slouch hats on a wooden farm table in front of her, she picked up the one labeled 'The Abrams', and officially signed with that family out of southern Virginia. Her father beamed pride. The terms of her deal were passage to America in exchange for seven years of servitude. A relative bargain when compared to Partridge's twelve years.
The Abrams put Alle into the regional hoop-and-stick competitions, and she brought her rights holders much fame. Several hundred years later, the Abrams would have a US main battle tank named in their honor. After her seven years of service, Alle traveled west into the wilds of Kan-tuck-ee, married, hacked a log cabin out of the wilderness, bore 12 children (four of whom lived past the age of eighteen), and died in a tragic milking accident at the ripe old age of 47. Another a win-win deal brokered by the NCAA.
May 22nd, 1856
South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks caned Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, after abolitionist Sumner castigated Brooks' colleagues over slavery. Brooks resigned under threat of censure, and was immediately hired as President of the NCAA. Brooks was re-elected as Representative, and resigned the NCAA leadership post. Brooks remains the shortest tenured NCAA President by more than 15 years, having served only 6 months.
The NCAA developed the Stahlhelm, which became the official German army helmet. To this day, all NCAA presidents must wear their hair in the shape of a Stahlhelm.
The NCAA is passed over as chief prosecutor for the Nuremberg Trials, after they claim they could not prosecute the Germans for war crimes because "they murdered some non-Jews too." So since all peoples had equal opportunity to be massacred, they could not prosecute.
After the humiliation of being passed over, the NCAA retrenched its position, focusing its leadership solely on collegiate sports within the United States, from appoximately January of 1946 forward, and closed its operating divisions of international policy making, genocide, and war profiteering. The NCAA took only a brief foray back into the foreign arena when it advised US President Jimmy Carter on the Iran Hostage Crises.
Through that historical lens, we can clearly see that the NCAA has always been in the vanguard of change - a very forward thinking organization, truly. The modern incarnation of National Signing Day is just one more example of the decisiveness.
As television exploded across the United States in the 1940's and 1950's, and collegiate football grew in popularity, recruiting never ended until the recruit enrolled in school. Your favorite team could pursue the 5-star quarterback until he showed up on someone else's campus - and even then, he was free game until he officially enrolled. So after just two or three decades of shady recruiting practices, with several conferences making up their own rules to try to reign things in, the NCAA leaped into action.
The resultant rules sought to achieve two principle ends: 1) save the recruiters from working year round. Making happy with a recruit all through spring, summer, and into fall was far too much effort. There had to be a way - some way - to cut down on that effort; and 2) try to restrict the free will of the prospective student athlete. Allowing them the free will to change their minds until they actually began to attend school was far too much leniency. There had to be a way - some way - to cut down on that freedom.
With those two ends as the driving factors, the NCAA proudly (re)introduced National Signing Day*. Signing Day required a prospective student to forfeit his free will on the first Wednesday in February in exchange for one-year's worth of tuition, so long as the member institution decided to accept the legally binding Letter of Intent (LOI). Once the LOI was accepted, the student could not change his mind - so the recruiting process was over. Somewhere around six months of effort saved. Done and done.
Why February? Well, why not? What do you have against the month of February? It's already allotted the fewest days of any other month. Stop picking on it.
Thank you for taking time to learn about the history of National Signing Day, as constructed by the NCAA. Obviously there are other hallmark days in NCAA lore, such as the Inquisition, the Potato Famine, and the Great Depression. Those stories will have to be saved for another time. Today, let's enjoy another National Signing Day!
*The original National Signing Day is still back there in 3,000 BC
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