National Signing Day has traditionally been the first day that a high school senior can sign a binding National Letter of Intent for a collegiate sport with a school that is a member of the United States National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
Although all NCAA sports have at least one National Signing Day, and most have two, College Football’s is by far the most widely followed by fans and sports media. Traditionally, college football's National Signing Day is the first Wednesday of February.
As of 2017, college football also has an early signing period in late December, meaning recruits now have the opportunity to sign with their college team over a month before National Signing Day. While many recruits utilize this early process, a significant number of the nation’s top-rated recruits opt to wait until February to sign with their teams, either because they have not yet made a decision or desire to announce their decision to the fanfare and media coverage typically reserved for National Signing Day.
Until 1981, several college football conferences, including the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), held conference signing days on the second Saturday in December to have recruits sign conference letters-of-intent. The College Football Association, led by several prominent college head football coaches, proposed a resolution to eliminate conference signing days during their 1980 convention, and have a singular signing day in their places, called a National Signing Day. In 1981, the last year for conference signing days, recruits had to sign both conference and national letters-of-intent if their school was in the Big Eight or Southwest Conferences (four members of the latter conference later joined the former, which became known as the Big 12 Conference after the expansion). The conference letters-of-intent restricted a recruit to signing with only one school in a conference, but was unrestricted to signing with a school outside of the conference. The national letters-of-intent restricted a recruit to signing with only one school in the NCAA. The NCAA ruled in January 1981 to abolish early signing days and have a National Signing Day on the third Wednesday in February. National Signing Day has since typically been on the first Wednesday in February.
In April 2017, the NCAA Division I Council voted to reinstate an early signing period in football, effective with the 2017–18 school year. The Collegiate Commissioners Association approved the new NCAA rule the following month, setting the early signing window for high schoolers as the first three days of the current early signing window for junior college players.
- "NCAA Sacks Motion To Eliminate 'Full Rides'". Herald-Journal. January 14, 1981. Retrieved 2012-02-23.
- "Gridders sign national letters-of-intent today". The Daily Reporter. February 13, 1981. Retrieved 2012-02-23.
- Mandel, Stewart (February 2, 2011). "Don't be fooled by Signing Day circus; 2011 recruiting awards". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2012-02-23.
- Kercheval, Ben (April 14, 2017). "NCAA DI Council approves early signing period for football, prohibits oversigning". CBSSports.com. Retrieved April 27, 2017.
- Rittenberg, Adam (May 8, 2017). "Collegiate Commissioners Association approves early signing period for football". ESPN.com. Retrieved May 9, 2017.