The first thought: this is a giant middle finger to the SEC.

Possible implementation of a long-discussed early signing period for college football recruiting comes up early this week. CBSSports.com first reported in January that an early signing period had been formally recommended.

It is now to the point that MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher told the Associated Press that passage is “a distinct possibility.”

The early period has been an ongoing and divisive issue for years. Paper or plastic? Gee, which environmentally unfriendly packaging do you feel less guilty about?

Previously, no consensus could be reached. It’s not altogether clear if there is one now. But pretty much the only league with such strident opposition is the Southeastern Conference.

Too bad, SEC. The early period -- Dec. 16 this year -- relieves pressure on the system. It allows students to be students, instead of pawns in the Recruiting Machine.

It tamps down the hype. That -- dear fan -- is a good thing. Short of there being no signing day -- Bo Pelini suggested kids sign whenever they want -- this might be the best way. Some order amid the chaos.

The upshot is less pressure on recruits. Hopefully, those unseemly commitment sideline shots during high school all-star games will become a thing of the past -- or at least greatly reduced -- as the early date will already have already passed.

Come to think of it, maybe the players themselves will opt out of those games altogether. Why risk injury with a scholarship in hand?

Then, there will go the games themselves, leaving even fewer entities -- talking about the sponsors and networks here -- to continue to profit from the athletic labors of teenagers.

But you can also see why the SEC protests. They say that all politics are local. Recruiting is about as politically charged as it gets in the South. In the current structure, January is a huge month for on-campus visits. Those January visits taken to SEC campuses typically don’t include snow and -- in some places -- are actually warm.

That's an advantage the SEC has over the frigid Big Ten, to name one.

Given those meteorological considerations alone, the SEC is concerned. Mid-December would become the de facto signing period, instead of early February. Those are SEC commissioner Greg Sankey’s words. The collective reaction? "Yeah, so what."

The kids’ considerations are greater than the SEC’s competitive concerns -- really, greater than any league’s concerns. But since the Strength Everywhere Conference rules, anything that gets in the way of that strength is perceived negatively.

At least in the SEC.

The sky isn’t falling. Six months ago, Alabama was No. 1 with a bullet. The conference killed it again during the NFL Draft. There will be the usual complement of ranked teams in the preseason, perhaps as many as nine.

The SEC isn’t getting much sympathy lately, especially after a historic seven-year run that most likely won’t be repeated. Especially with Jim Harbaugh’s daring daylight satellite camp raids into the South. Especially after Nick Saban’s comments last month that there needs to be a “level playing field” in cost of attendance payments.

Uh, Nick, that’s how we got to this litigious point. Whether you like it or not, players are going to be compensated in some form. And at last check, there was no level playing field regarding head coaches’ salaries.

The Collegiate Commissioners Association oversees National Signing Day. It could implement the new date on its own next week at its annual meeting. Prospects would have 72 hours to sign beginning Wednesday, Dec. 16. The date would be in place for two years as an “experiment.”

So, what’s the big deal? If early signing is approved, it could be gone in two years. The SEC perceives slippage. That’s OK. Life will go on. More than 80 percent of prospects honor those non-binding verbal “commitments.” Why not end the recruiting dance earlier?

Sankey has argued an early date will impact state high school playoffs. Only a handful of states go later than Dec. 16. He has said schools won’t have access to that semester’s academic information. If there are any grade concerns, there is still the late period in February.

There are impacts elsewhere. The recruiting calendar will have to change. There will be pressure to get those visits taken during the season. Yeah, coaches will have to further balance game plans with recruiting visits.

Tough stuff. They’ll have to deal with it.

Had the early date been in place last year, five schools would have been in the middle of a coaching search -- Colorado State, Houston, Michigan, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin.

Maybe that increases the pressure to fire coaches during the season. We can live with that, too. If a new coach is in place by early signing day, that’s more certainty for the recruit.

It’s hard to believe the SEC may lose on this issue. They’re not used to losing -- at anything.

Nick Saban recruits perfectly well without an early signing period. (USATSI)
Nick Saban recruits perfectly well without an early signing period. (USATSI)