Before reading this, if you have not already, take a moment to read Brad Wolverton’s post at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Players blog about scholarship agreements which do not require that prospects sign an accompanying NLI.
To quickly recap: without proper language in the school’s athletic grant-in-aid agreement, an athlete who was sent both the scholarship agreement and a National Letter of Intent could sign and send back the scholarship, and trash the NLI. This would mean that the school is bound by the terms of the scholarship agreement, but the athlete has no obligation until he enrolls. He gains a level of security, but maintains almost total freedom.
Just an attempt to negotiate their way out of even being sent an NLI, athletes need proper leverage to exploit this loophole. Coaches who discover that a prospect is locking themselves into a scholarship but still keeping his or her recruiting open are not likely to be happy. Just like trying to keep an unhappy student-athlete on campus makes little sense, neither does going to play for a coach you may have pissed off.
But if a high profile athlete did this, it would be a preview of what recruiting would look like without some version of the NLI. For all its faults, the NLI serves a valuable purpose. It is a universally recognized end to the recruiting process. The coach can move on to the next class and the athlete can focus on the transition from high school to college.
Without an NLI, the only end of the recruiting process is when an athlete enrolls in school. Prospects could have multiple signing days, slipping on the hat of any university willing to set a scholarship in writing. Coaches who have athletes fall ineligible could hit the waiver wire late in the summer to plug holes. Athletes who have settled on a school will still have to contend with recruiters trying to flip them.
It would not be all bad. Athletes in equivalency sports or negotiating for multiyear scholarships would have written offers to compare and use to up the ante with other institutions. Transfers might find permission to contact easier to get if coaches are confident a plethora of recruits are still available.
But the uncertainty at the top trickles down. If top recruits have locked up multiple scholarships at different schools and hold them until very late in the process, athletes the next level down have to wait to see if those offers will open back up. The alternative is to accept massive amounts of oversigning, and hope it shakes out.
The current way the NLI and scholarship agreement interact, where the terms of the institution-friendly NLI tend to eliminate many of the benefits of the prospect-friendly scholarship agreement, is not ideal. But neither is going to the other extreme. What’s needed is a better, more equitable agreement that still preserves the current rhythm of the recruiting process.