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.
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.