9 Important Aspects Regarding Signing Day
In part 1 our series of “What Does Committing to An Athletic Program Really Mean?”, we addressed 5 Important Steps to Take Prior to Signing. This week, in the midst of many soccer, football, and water polo student-athletes signing periods, we want to take the process of recruiting and athletic scholarships a step further. As high school students and their families anticipate the very exciting day of signing, we want to address a few very important aspects of the actual procedures.
Having been an NCAA Compliance Director for 13 sports and a college coach for 14 years across, including 11 years as a NCAA DI, DII, and NAIA Head Coach, I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to recruiting. In addition, as the author of the book, Looking For A FULL RIDE?: An Insider’s Recruiting Guide, I have interviewed 65 college coaches and athletic directors across all sports and all divisions to get their insight on signings for recruits.
First, it is important to understand that anything verbally agreed upon prior to a signing date is just that: a verbal commitment. It is highly recommended student-athletes take the process of verbal commitments very seriously (as you don’t want to get a poor reputation that your word is not something that is dependable as this is literally a college coach’s livelihood). Despite the dramatic situations often played out on ESPN, these last-minute decisions are few and far between. Typically, most student-athletes have verbally committed to a university a few weeks, months, or even years ahead and it is more of just waiting for the official signing date to arrive.
As the big day approaches, it is important to understand these aspects:
1. Various sports sign at various times throughout the year.
Some NCAA sports like volleyball, basketball, and football have early signing periods during the fall/winter. These early signing periods are typically only around a week long. Other signing periods start in February or April and can last a few days to a few months. As the specific dates change every year, student-athletes should consult the website of the governing body for the institution they plan to commit to in relation to their specific graduation year.
Every year as an NCAA Compliance Director, I would get families with tons of anxiety because they saw another student-athlete sign in their town and they did not have their paperwork in their hands. Remember, just because your soccer friend is signing on the first Wednesday in February, doesn’t mean that you as a basketball player can sign during that time period and vice versa.
2. Governing bodies differ in terms of signing dates and policies.
This blog format would become extremely lengthy if we went into each governing body in depth, but I will describe the basics here and encourage you to research the governing body you are signing with for your athletic career. NCAA Division I and II scholarship student-athletes can sign National Letters of Intent with a financial aid agreement. NCAA Division III student-athletes can sign commitment letters and financial aid agreements. Ivy Leagues, which can’t offer athletic aid, have a separate procedure. NAIA prospects can sign Letters of Intent and the NJCAA, NCCAA, and USCAA all have their own steps for signings. Each of their websites address prospective student-athletes procedures.
3. Signing a National Letter of Intent (NCAA DI & II) must be accompanied by a written financial aid agreement.
To be valid, the NLI must have the specific terms written out regarding athletic scholarships being awarded. Often, you will hear people discuss the term “full ride” being offered. Some of that offer may be academic scholarships, grants, and other financial aid being combined with athletic scholarships. Also, it may only be for tuition and not room and board or other costs of attendance (books, student fees, activity fees, travel, etc). Sometimes, this financial aid will only list a percentage of tuition, fees, housing, etc as final tuition numbers haven’t been determined by the college. Make sure you know EXACTLY how much you owe after the athletic scholarship is applied. Do not assume that 100% of tuition includes fees, books, housing, meals, etc. In reality, a very small percentage of student-athletes receive a “full ride”.
4. When you sign a NLI, you sign with the university and NOT with a specific coach.
National Letters of Intent are signed by the Athletic Director and/or Compliance Director. If a coach leaves a school after you sign, you are still committed to that institution.
5. National Letters of Intent are LEGALLY BINDING documents.
It is very difficult to get out of a National Letter of Intent. I have had one extreme situation in which a student-athlete was able to get out of her commitment letter to a school across the country. She had multiple deaths in the family in a span of the 2 months following her signing date and wanted to stay closer to home due to the family situation. She had to go through a lengthy and difficult appeal process to get released. Don’t think just because a coach leaves or you simply change your mind that you will get released.
6. Failure to complete one full academic year at the school you signed an NLI with will have penalties.
The NLI terms include a statement, “I understand that if I do not attend the institution named in this document for one full academic year and I enroll in another institution participating in the NLI program, I may not compete in intercollegiate athletics until I have completed one full academic year in residence at the latter institution. Further, I understand I shall be charged with the loss of one season of intercollegiate athletics competition in all sports. This is in addition to any seasons of competition used at any institutions.” It is imperative student-athletes do not take this commitment lightly as there are many implications both short and long term of their athletic careers.
7. Signing parties vary across schools and sports organizations.
Every high school (and sometimes travel club) varies in terms of how much they celebrate or do not publicize student-athlete commitments. You should contact your athletic director, coaches, principals, or travel club directors regarding how they would like to celebrate your accomplishments publicly. Some student-athletes have chosen to celebrate with just their family at their house while other schools or clubs may have local media attending. Depending on when your ceremony is scheduled, you may have to already sign and return the NLI, LOI, or other commitment letters prior to the ceremony so you may have to “pretend” to sign documents for the media you have already completed.
8. NCAA coaches can not hand-deliver or be present for your signing day ceremony.
NCAA Legislation prevents coaches from physically bringing the documents to your house or school. Instead, the paperwork is typically mailed or emailed a few days prior to a signing period. These NCAA college coaches cannot be present during your signing, even if you are a highly recruited athlete. You may see coaches from other governing bodies in attendance at a signing party at your school, so do not misperceive that as you are not as “important” to your college coach if they are not attending. They simply are not allowed to be there.
9. NCAA coaches can not publicly comment about you as a recruit to the media until after the NLI documents have been submitted to the NCAA.
Local media outlets will often request comments from a college coach regarding a recruit’s future contributions to a program. The press release information may only be released once all documentation has been completed with the NCAA and the university. This includes all school and coach social media platforms as well.
We want to congratulate all who arrive at this joyous occasion of a commitment! Now is when the real work begins in preparing for college. Come back next week and we’ll address part 3 to explain the Important Steps to Take After Signing!
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Coach Renee Lopez
As a 17 year coaching veteran, Coach Renee Lopez is a recruiting expert for high school student-athletes. She uses her NCAA Division I, II, and NAIA Head Coaching experience to help families navigate the recruiting process to be identified by college coaches and help them find the right “fit” for playing at the next level. She has produced 3 All-Americans, over 30 All-Conference athletes and Her teams have been honored with awards for team academic accomplishments, sportsmanship, and sports ministry. In addition, Coach Renee Lopez has been named Coach of the Year by her peers.
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