The initial signing day for football is almost upon us which means a time honored tradition is back: questioning why fax machines still play a part. AL.com’s Jon Solomon found the questioning of fax machines goes straight to the top:
“I think a lot of times people get confused and think we mandate it, and that’s not the case at all. It’s their choice,” said Susan Peal, director of the National Letter of Intent (NLI). “I think it’s going more and more toward the electronic mode of transmission. I highly encourage it. You always have those old-school people who want to go through regular mail or fax. I don’t think it’s necessary because we do have a more efficient way to do it.”
So to answer Jon Solomon’s question, why does the fax machine still play such a big role? Because the process of signing an NLI is more complicated that it seems and reliability, not efficiency, is the most important metric.
The public’s perception of the NLI signing process looks something like this:
- The prospect signs the NLI.
- The prospect sends the NLI to the institution.
- The institution puts out a press release.
The actual process looks like this and shows why the move to electronic signing is so slow:
- The prospect signs both the NLI and an athletic scholarship agreement.
- The prospect sends both documents to the institution.
- The institution sends both documents to their conference for processing.
- Meanwhile, the institution issues a press release about the signing.
- The conference enters the NLI into the Eligibility Center website, making it official.
For starters, signing a physical document is a big deal. Earning an athletic scholarship is the culmination of years of effort and at least a bit of luck. High schools set up ceremonies that involve the local media. Some prospects or their families frame the signed scholarship and/or NLI. The desire to sign something is so strong that Division III is thinking about getting in on the act:
But several members of the Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee said they would have relished an opportunity to sign a commitment letter and have a “signing” ceremony like their counterparts in Divisions I and II. The working group hadn’t originally intended to poll members on the topic, but given the level of interest, questions were made up on the fly at the behest of several student-athletes and administrators. Sixty-nine percent of the respondents indicated that they would favor allowing a non-binding commitment letter and/or ceremony, while only 27 percent said they would be opposed.
“It’s a great idea as long as it’s voluntary and it doesn’t have a set of rules and regulations attached to it,” said Bob Antonucci, president of Fitchburg State and member of the Division III Presidents Council. “To allow a student to have his or her picture taken, sign a letter of intent with the other students in their high school, I think is terrific.”
Since signing day ceremonies are unlikely to go away anytime soon, there will still be two paper documents. Those documents have to go not just to one other party but then onto a second. With PDFs or electronic documents, the number of potential problems start to multiply, as Mike Pugh, vice president of marketing for eFax, pointed out to Solomon:
“For a lot of guardians and athletes, this may be the most important document any of them deal with,” he said. “You can imagine asking some kid to ask their mom whether they’re running Chrome or Firefox on a home computer and realize if they have the wrong browser, maybe something doesn’t work right.”
If we assume that the process starts with a piece of paper, the process of scanning a document, emailing it to the athletic department, and the compliance office sending it on to the conference is no more efficient than using a fax machine. The latter simply requires dropping the document in a fax, then the compliance office putting the same document right back into the fax machine it came out of.
If actually signing something became less important to prospects, than electronic signing would be more efficient. But efficiency is not the goal. Most coaches do not care that much about how much work it takes to get an NLI from sitting on a table in front of a prospect to one validated by the conference office. What coaches care about is that whatever process is used works 100% of the time. A new process that saves hours of work and thousands of dollars is a disaster in the eyes of a coach if so much as one prospect is lost because it is too complicated or impersonal.
The preferred method of signing an NLI might seem archaic but that’s because it works so well in so many situations. A replacement has to not only save time but be as flexible and easy to use as paper and a fax machine for every prospect. Until that happens, the fax machine will still get hauled out once a year for a job it seems uniquely well suited for.