Montana Grizzly Spring Football Game  01.JPG

Montana head coach Bob Stitt talks to his players as they warm up before the spring game in Butte on April 22. 

TOM BAUER/Missoulian

No need to creep down the stairs under the cover of darkness. The NCAA has given permission to open a few presents ahead of college football Christmas.

The NCAA's Collegiate Commissioners Association in June is expected to finalize several changes approved by the Division I Council to college football recruiting, including the creation of an early signing period for the sport starting this December.

Such a window exists for all other NCAA sports, but until now future college football players were required to wait until National Signing Day on the first Wednesday of each February to make their commitments official.

College coaches, including both Montana's Bob Stitt and Montana State's Jeff Choate, were heavily in favor of the change.

"I think it's all positive for us; I can't see a negative right now for the whole thing for us," Stitt said. "... It cleans it up a little bit I think. You can really, truly see who's gonna go FBS and who's not."

Meaning coaches can narrow their recruiting focus, especially on out-of-state targets who may be mulling scholarship offers from mid-major type FBS programs.

"It might allow us to be a little more efficient because you're not wasting time on somebody who's verbally committed to somebody else," MSU's Choate added.

The early football signing period is the flashiest of the adopted changes that cover recruiting, coaching and practices. To match the signing period addition, the Division I Council OK'd expansion of official campus recruiting visits that may now stretch into the spring and summer before a student-athlete's senior year.

There's further legislation that affects only the higher Football Bowl Subdivision like regulations on summer camps and clinics held by FBS coaches and the added option to hire a 10th salaried assistant coach.

The Griz certainly expect to take advantage of the early signing period. The campus visits that can now start as soon as April? Not so much.

Bringing in a prospective student-athlete during the summer -- or in the first weeks of January during holiday break -- doesn't give them the full experience on the Missoula campus, said Griz running backs coach Justin Green.

"Part of the reason to bring guys to campus is to help them get the visual of what (going to college) is going to be like," said Green, who also serves as the program's recruiting coordinator. "Because no one's here (in the summer and winter). You bring them to an empty campus and that's exactly what it is: an empty campus. It's like a desolate place."

Montana attempts to schedule as many official visits for its six home-game weekends in the fall to coincide with the festive gatherings of 26,000 people at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. That's no accident, Stitt said, and something he doesn't anticipate altering.

"I know the FBS schools will be doing a lot of that stuff, having kids come in early. We won't do it until fall," Stitt confirmed. "What do you want to sell in your program? Our game day is what we want kids to see."

The Division I Council also voted to eliminate two-a-day football practices during preseason camps. Teams are now allowed only a single three-hour on-field session, though that can still be followed by a non-contact walk-through on the same day. There must be three continuous hours of recovery time between the two periods though, which may include team meetings, medical treatment or film study.

That rule change won't affect Montana or Montana State much either. Both schools have made strides to limit preseason contact time already.

"Not at all. Those (second practices) were basically walk-throughs at night anyway and you can still do walk-throughs," Stitt said. "... You've got to be smart about that and this will just help some of the programs that have not went away from two-a-days already."

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