Leverage and “the worst contract in American sports”

Man, make sure you read Andy Staples’ excellent, excellent take on why top recruits shouldn’t sign a national letter of intent.  It’s not that hard to understand:

Here is what the NLI guarantees the school:

• The player cannot be recruited by any other school.

• The player must enroll at the school for at least a year, or he/she must give up 25 percent of college athletic eligibility.

• Once said player is enrolled at the school, he/she is bound by NCAA transfer rules, which allow the school’s coach to decide if the player can transfer and receive an athletic scholarship anywhere else. (Also, the athlete still must sit out a year after transferring regardless of whether the program released him or her to receive a scholarship.)

• All these penalties stay in effect even if the school fires the head coach or the head coach leaves (usually basketball) or the assistant coach who recruited the player takes a new job within a week of National Signing Day (usually football).

Here is what the NLI guarantees a player:

• Other schools aren’t allowed to recruit him.

That’s it.

Such a deal!

Now of course if you’re not a five-star stud, you may very well be stuck with the NLI on a take it or leave it basis.  But there are a few kids like this in every class…

That is, unless that player is special and the coach feels he must have him to succeed. That’s where Vanderdoes and Thomas, the Miami linebacker currently fighting with Florida State, made a mistake. Notre Dame or Florida State might not have signed those players had they declined to sign the NLI, but plenty of quality programs would have. That isn’t the case for the 20th guy in the East Carolina signing class, but it is for the recruits at the top of the food chain. Ole Miss was not going to say no to Loganville, Ga., defensive end Robert Nkemdiche if he didn’t want to sign an NLI.

So why doesn’t it happen very often?  Why are Vanderdoes’ and Thomas’ situations getting the attention they’re getting now?  There’s a pretty obvious explanation for that.  As Staples puts it, “The entire recruiting system is built on the premise that the schools know and make the rules and then enforce them on people who have little or no familiarity with the process.”  And that’s not going to change if the schools/coaches have anything to say about it.  And why should they?  There is no downside to a school reneging on a deal, as we saw with LSU and Elliott Porter.  (Fairness only goes so far for Les Miles.)  Meanwhile a player who wants out loses a year of eligibility.

It’s a crappy deal and it deserves more exposure, so kudos to Staples for laying out a plan of action.

The smartest move for players with dozens of scholarship offers is to refuse to sign. If every player in the Rivals100 for the class of 2014 refused to sign an NLI, top-tier schools would be forced to make some difficult choices. First, they’d have to decide if they wanted to allow the best players in the country to simply go elsewhere. (They wouldn’t allow that much talent to trickle down to the have-not schools — which would happily agree to the players’ terms.) Then, with their precious document neutered, would schools stick by the NLI, or would they adjust it to make it a little more reasonable?

We’ll only know if the top prospects decline to sign the worst contract in American sports and demand something better.

Every high school coach in America with a five-star recruit on his team ought to make sure his kid and his kid’s parents know about this.

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17 Comments

Filed under College Football, Recruiting

17 responses to “Leverage and “the worst contract in American sports”

  1. wnc dawg

    I used to follow college hoops very closely. I’m a Duke grad and I recall Elton Brand, who was the #1 recruit one year, did not sign a NLI. Instead, he signed a grant in aid which guaranteed him the scholarship money, but it did not limit his options. In an interview I remember him saying the NLI was a bad deal and he wanted to be able to reevaluate his options if Coach K took another health leave or whatnot. I always thought it would catch on, but he’s the only person I’ve ever heard of who’s done it.

    • AthensHomerDawg

      Brand stayed for two years…..Duke Nation was none too pleased when he decided to go pro.

    • If I’m not mistaken, the Geathers family did the same thing with Robert Jr, Clifton, and Kwame. It’s not common, but it does seem to happen with big name recruits, particularly those who have family experienced with this system.

      • wnc dawg

        That’s interesting. I didn’t know that about the Geathers. Do you know of anyone else?

        • Will (the other one)

          I believe all three of the Geatherses waited a bit after NSD to turn in paperwork too.

        • mp

          I remember a big deal was made when Seantrel Henderson delayed signing his NLI after announcing he would sign with USC on signing day. He eventually signed it (a month later), USC got hit with sanctions, and then he asked for and was granted his release.

  2. AthensHomerDawg

    “We live by the Golden Rule. Those who have the gold make the rules.”
    Buzzie Bevasi

  3. Scott W.

    “The entire recruiting system is built on the premise that the schools know and make the rules and then enforce them on people who have little or no familiarity with the process.”

    Substitute the words recruiting and school for almost anything else and the result is the same. I think the reason kids still sign is no signature no Espy Presser.

  4. Cojones

    Senator, you and Staples are correct for touting player’s rights. Most of us agree with that sentiment. But when you leave the posts open-ended as to “….demand something better.”, I’d like to see your suggestions playing that further as to what the demands would be and what it would do to the security of recruited classes and for UGA and the CFB World.

    • For starters, how about allowing recruits to have legal representation during the process? How about giving each side to the NLI similar rights?

      “The security of recruited classes”? LMAO. You’d think the NCAA, patron saint of student-athletes, would be more concerned with fairness.

      • Mayor of Dawgtown

        I repeat: “Don’t trust your soul to a backwoods Southern lawyer” Vicki Lawrence, THE NIGHT THEY TURNED OUT THE LIGHTS IN GEORGIA, circa 1972 :)

      • Cojones

        Kids to have lawyers to help them in the process and not call them “agents”? Allright.

        Recruited class security? Weak and soft answer. If you have a team together that you can count on by signing day, what’s the friggin’ hurry to turn around and destroy it? Why don’t you admit that there is no good answer, just conjecture to get the viscera rolling.

        • None of that makes any sense to me. Why can’t a kid retain counsel to review a contract? He can certainly do so if he gets into trouble with the law.

          And if your only objection to a fairer, more balanced NLI is that it would destroy a signing class, that’s a pretty sad comment on the whole recruiting process.

  5. paul

    Not signing is a simple and quite frankly outstanding idea. If you’re an elite recruit. Few, if any, schools will turn you down if you decide to enroll. I’m not sure why more athletes don’t go that route. On the other hand, if a lot of top talent starts deciding not to sign then we are, more than likely, simply widening the gap between the haves and the have nots once again. Those not signing are likely to gravitate towards the large, successful programs. Especially since it will be those large, successful programs that can afford to leave roster spots open on national signing day. Still, I’d love to see this happen. After all the turmoil and money grubbing we’ve endured the past few years, I’d love to see players introduce a little chaos of their own. The Spurrier quotes alone would be worth the price of admission.

  6. Bryant Denny

    I’ll go ahead and admit it: I probably should have a little more sympathy for the players involved. But I don’t.

    Sure the Thomas situation at FSU is a quagmire, but who couldn’t see the potential problems there?

    Most of these kids are recruited for three plus years now. They should kinda know where they want to spend the next three to five years. I find it hard to feel sorry for a 4 or 5 star player who goes through the process signs a NLI and then changes his mind.

    Like it or not, recruiting involves a ton of dollars and an incredible amount of hours worked. And not just by the Nick Sabans and Mark Richts, but by everyone on a staff. They spend enough time wooing these kids and after signing day it’s time to move on.

    You want to lawyer up and / or not sign a NLI? Go ahead and try it, but that junk won’t work for most players.

    • James

      Yeah, poor guys like Nick Saban and “everyone on staff,” making six to eight figures a year to send a bunch of text messages. Would hate to see how sad this story is going to get when players have to eventually get compensated, and the zero-sum AD budget game where we eliminate “profit” by continuing to hyper-inflate salaries ends.

  7. Connor

    I think the whole thing needs to be torn down. It should be built around the best interests of the student athletes. Transfer rules, signing dates, scholarship guarantees for 4 years… it all needs to be overhauled. It’s difficult to imagine a system that is more fully stacked against the players, and that’s a shame.