Matthew Thomas, a linebacker from Miami’s Booker T. Washington High School, has asked Florida State for a release from his National Letter of Intent. Thomas claims he signed the NLI “under duress”, which in this case was family pressure:
“What happened was on Signing Day was I wasn’t sure who I wanted to sign with. I had issues with different schools. But when I told my mom I didn’t want to sign with anybody and wait and give it a few days she said I couldn’t do that. She said, ‘FSU is a good school – pick them. It’s close to home.’ I wasn’t agreeing with it. But I felt like I was being disrespectful to her if I didn’t sign. So I made her happy.”
Thomas says Florida State’s coaches have not granted the release. Issues like this are relatively rare at this level of sport. Most NLI issues for top prospects involve midyear transfers. It is uncommon for highly recruited football players to have a fight over the NLI before arriving on campus, especially when there has been no coaching change.
The article says the decision rests with the Florida State staff but in the case of an NLI, that is not entirely true. Unlike an enrolled student-athlete’s request for permission to contact other schools about a transfer, an NLI release can be appealed outside of the school.
NLI releases are administered by the NCAA Eligibility Center on behalf of the Conference Commissioners Association, which oversees the NLI program. When a school denies an athlete’s request for a release, the athlete has 30 days to appeal the denial to the NLI Committee. Athletes even have a second appeal, to the NLI Appeals Committee, should they still not be granted a release.
So Thomas has a number of options available to push for a release. The big question is whether his reasoning will be good enough to convince one of the NLI committees to grant him his release. The easiest solution for Thomas would be for Florida State to change its mind about releasing him, which might happen after a face-to-face chat.
If Thomas does not get his release from Florida State, his appeals are not successful, and he still decides to go somewhere else, he will be subject to the NLI’s basic penalty. He will lose one season of competition in all sports and be required to sit out his first year at the other institution. That would leave him with four years to play three seasons.
In theory, Thomas would still be able to receive a scholarship and practice during that year in residence. The problem is the NLI’s recruiting ban, which would prevent him from seeking out and signing with a new school, at least until he enrolled there and potentially even longer.