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SoCalHoops Recruiting News

National Letters Of Intent. . .
Some Additional Information--(Aug. 4, 2000)

We previously published an article about the National Letter of Intent back in September 1997, specifically on September 12, 1997.  It was pretty good, not completely comprehensive, but informative.  Rather than just link to it, here's the important part of the article reprinted:

The NCAA requires that a student-athlete not sign an "official committment letter" before 7 a.m. (local time) on the first day of the signing period, or after the final date: In case you're interested, for Basketball, the early signing period begins today, at 7 a.m. PST, and ends November 19. The next signing period, the "late signing period" begins at 7 a.m. on April 8, and ends May 15.  

So what does it mean to sign such a "Letter of Intent"? According to Jim McCullough of the Collegiate Commissioner's Association (not the NCAA-- the National Letter of Intent Program is actually run by a different organization), the letter of intent is a binding contract between you and the university that you will attend that particular school and play in your particular sport. Once it is signed, the recruiting process basically and for all practical purposes, ceases.

As McCullough told the Contra Costa Times, "Once you sign, you're locked in to that university," 

Before a letter of intent is signed, an athlete who has been recruited by a school, will typically give a "verbal committment" to attend a particular school, sometimes weeks, and sometimes, as in the case of Matt Barnes at UCLA, months before the period for signing.

While most schools will keep their committment to an athlete who commits verbally, this is not always the case; usually though, it is the athlete who changes his or her mind. And according to the CCA's McCullough, they aren't bound to do so either.

"If kids give a verbal commitment, it doesn't mean anything," McCullough said. "The only thing that stops recruiting is a national letter of intent. That's the purpose of a letter."

"There are approximately 15,000 signings a year across the nation," David Price, the CCA's secretary treasurer told the Contra Costa Times.  

So what does a National Letter of Intent look like? Pretty simple.

Student's Name (last name first)
Permanent address (Street, City, State, Zip Code).
Signature of the A.D. at the University or College
Parent or Guardian's Signature;
Social Security Number;
Date of Birth; and
Phone Number.

That's it. Pretty simple.

But once it is signed, it's a legal committment, and as the Contra Costa article noted, "not even erasable ink" can free a student from that committment. But that doesn't stop people from appealing to the CCA after a change of heart.

McCullough of the CCA told the Times, "We're probably getting more appeals than ever before. Kids are trying to get out of letters for some reason or another. You'll hear how they signed early and their coach left. But they signed with the institution, not the coach, so that's no reason for leaving." 

There are some reasons which will justify a decision to void a letter of intent: If an athlete is later actually denied admission, for example, or if the student is not academically ineligible, the letter can become void. And, as the recent example of CSUN is any guide (not in basketball, but in other sports), when a school drops a program entirely, that will obviously allow a student to choose another institution.

Often it is the parents of a student who try to change their minds about consenting to have their son or daughter attend; maybe they like another school better, or maybe they just want to keep junior closer to home. David Price of the CCA, who's also an Associate Commissioner of the PAC-10 told the Times, "It'll be another three or four months before the mamas and papas are calling, trying to figure out what their kids have done. A lot of people have second thoughts. "Our advice," said Price, "is to be sure you make a firm decision before you sign." 

So why sign now? Why not wait? Most of the students in a position to consider such an option have only just begun their senior year, have not even started the basketball season, much less even looked at a college catalog. Graduation is more than 8 months away for some, and college won't start for 11 more months, after a long summer vacation.

Well, there are certain advantages. Basically the letter is also a committment from the school, guaranteeing the athlete a spot (and more importantly, a scholarship). Once it's done, a prospect is no longer a "prospective student athlete" and will not have to be worried about, or distracted by, the recruiting process. 

Why wait? Sometimes a better offer might come along, but there's no guarantee of that happening. The Times related an incident involving Thomas Whiting, the head varsity football coach at Pittsburg (Calif.) High, who was formerly the coach at Long Beach Poly. He now says he never advises an athlete about when to commit any longer, and that includes his own son, who has verbally committed to play at UCLA (and who presumably will sign when the football signing period commences--it's not until February 4, except for JC transfers, who can sign in December). Why does he not advise athletes anymore? Seems he gave some bad advice in 1985.

"My quarterback was also a basketball player who got a scholarship offer to Loyola Marymount, and he wanted to go there (to play basketball)," Whiting told the Contra Costa Times. "He asked, 'Coach, what should I do?' I told him a lot of schools were interested in him for football and he might get a better offer. I feel bad because he never went to college."

Some students want to sign early; that way they know their scholarships will be there; they might not be if a college coach is asked to wait; according to West Coast Hoops, that's what happened to Ricky Anderson's spot at Arizona [note:  Of course, Lute Olsen did change his mind and continued to recruit Anderson after backing away when he was asked to wait]. On the other hand, many athletes like a school, but aren't sure about whether the coach will still be there, or whether the program will be hit with sanctions for past violations. We haven't heard about any big lines waiting to get into the Michigan program this year; or Cal's for that matter [man, how things can change in just a few short years. . . ] 

As one student athlete told the Time, "The advantage (in signing early) is you're signed, and you don't have to worry during your senior season. The disadvantage is everything can change between now and the late signing period."

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