Signing day is a wonderful occasion for a high school student-athlete. It is
a day to celebrate the accomplishments of the student-athlete, to
acknowledge the offer of an athletic scholarship from a college or
university and to appreciate the opportunity to participate in college
athletics and pursue a college degree.
However, sometimes student-athletes and their families get caught up in
the ceremony of the declaration of a commitment to a school. Not
enough attention is paid to the fact that the document that the student-
athlete is signing – the National Letter of Intent (NLI) is a contract. The
college or university offers to provide the student-athlete with an athletic
scholarship for one year in exchange for the student-athlete’s
commitment to attend its institution and participate in a particular sport.
It is important that parents along with the student-athlete actually read
and understand the NLI before signing. Below are some of the more
pertinent provisions of the NLI:
- The NLI is null and void if the student isn’t admitted to the college
or university. Just because the coach at a particular school wants
the student-athlete doesn’t mean the admissions off is going to
admit him or her. The coach is primarily thinking of how the
student-athlete will fit into his athletic program in comparison to a
handful of other student-athletes who play the same position. The
admissions office is thinking about how the student-athlete can be
an attribute to the college or university based on the academic
records and extra-curricular activities of the student-athlete in
comparison to several hundred, if not thousand other students.
Thus, if a student-athlete knows where he wants to go to college
early in the senior year before he receives an offer from that college,
he or she should apply to that college or university as early as
possible. Some colleges and universities have rolling admissions and
by the time Signing Day rolls around, the student-athlete could
already be admitted. However, if the admissions office doesn’t
admit the student-athlete for the term specified in the contract (i.e.
for the 2008-09 academic year), the NLI is null and void and thus, no
- The NLI is null and void if the student-athlete isn’t a qualifier.
Even if a college or university admits a student-athlete it doesn’t
mean that the NCAA Eligibility Center will certify the student-
athlete as a qualifier. If a student-athlete is not certified as a
qualifier, then he or she is not eligible for financial aid, practice or
competition at that particular college or university. It is possible to
be certified a qualifier in one division and not another, but unless the
student is certified as a qualifier for the division in which his or her
chosen school is classified, then the NLI is not valid. For example,
say a student-athlete is certified as a qualifier in Division II, but not
in Division I, and the student-athlete has signed an NLI for a
Division I college. Though that student-athlete is eligible for
financial aid practice and competition at a Division II school, he or
she is not eligible for financial aid, practice and competition at the
Division I to which he or she signed. Thus, the NLI is null and void
and the student-athlete may not sign another NLI with a college or
university at which he or she would be certified a qualifier.
- The NLI is a contract for one year. Coaches have been accused of
promising student-athletes “four year scholarships”. Coaches aren’t
supposed to make such offers – the NCAA rule says that the period
of award (i.e. 2008-09 academic year) aren’t to exceed one year.
The NLI supports the NCAA rule as it the duration of the contract is
for no more than a period of one academic year. Coaches may make
recommendations to award scholarships for the sophomore and the
following academic years to student-athletes, but student-athletes
and families should know that coaches are not obligated to do so.
- The NLI obligates a student-athlete to attend the college or
university for one year. There are circumstances under which a
student-athlete decides that the college or university is not for him
or her. Perhaps the student is homesick or the student-athlete is
not getting the playing time he or she was promised or perhaps the
college or university is just not the right fit for the student-athlete.
Regardless, student-athletes must attend the institution to which
they signed NLIs for one academic year. If student-athletes do not
fulfill this provision of the NLI (by leaving the college or university
prior to completing one academic year), they run the risk of
forfeiting a year of eligibility and if they enroll at another college or
university that utilizes the NLI, they may not compete for one full
academic year. Thus, it is very important for student-athletes to be
very certain about their choice of a college or university.
- Student-athletes sign with a college or university – not the coach.
This is the hardest thing for student-athletes, their parents, their
coaches and others to grasp. When coaches at colleges or
universities retire, leave take a job at another school or get fired,
student-athletes who signed with that college or university
sometimes want to leave because they only came to that college or
university because of the coach. However, student-athletes must
recognize the NLI – the contract is with the college or university –
not the coach. Thus, if the coach leaves, the student-athlete must
remain for the year. Before student-athletes sign an NLI, they
should have a good understanding of their respective college
coaches’ future at their desired colleges or universities.