Andy Staples poses an interesting scenario:
That kind of secret gets kept at a lot of places and revealed after Signing Day, by which point prospects have already signed the worst contract in American sports and relinquished their right to be recruited by other schools. Those secrets were kept this year. At Ohio State, running backs coach Stan Drayton was planning to go to the Chicago Bears. At Florida, defensive line coach Terrell Williams was heading to the Miami Dolphins. The Gators were ready to replace him with Texas defensive line coach Chris Rumph. None of this was supposed to get out until Thursday, but Marvez, who covers the NFL and therefore works outside the College Football Industrial Complex, simply reported the info he was told by a reliable source Wednesday. He gave Smith a chance to do what every top-100 football recruit in the country should every year: Refuse to sign the NLI.
That’s precisely what Harold plans to suggest to Smith and his family. Smith smartly signed with no one Wednesday. He can wait until April 1 to sign the NLI, but doesn’t have to sign it at all (more on that later). Smith is still being recruited hard by UCLA, Georgia, Michigan and Texas A&M. He has options. He also has the chance to be a trailblazer and avoid the NLI entirely. “I’m going to talk to his family and see if that’s what they’d like to do — if that’s an option they’d like to explore,” Harold said.
That’s some option.
Though most players don’t realize it, they do not have to sign the NLI to receive a scholarship. They need only sign a financial aid agreement at their chosen school. The financial aid paperwork provides (almost) the same guarantee of a scholarship as the NLI, but unlike the NLI, it doesn’t strip the player of the only leverage he’ll have until he graduates from college.
Why is the NLI the worst contract in American sports? It requires players to sign away their right to be recruited by other schools. If they don’t enroll at the school with which they signed, they forfeit a year of eligibility. Not a redshirt year, but one of their four years to play. In return, the NLI guarantees the player nothing.
Sure, the NLI claims to guarantee a scholarship, but that simply isn’t true. That is contingent on the player being admitted to the school and on the football program staying below the 85-scholarship limit. A school can dump the player at any point between Signing Day and preseason camp, and he would have no recourse. This guarantee is no different than the one on a conference-approved financial aid form, but it costs the player something the financial aid agreement does not.
The real question, of course, isn’t so much whether Smith wants to become a trailblazer – nothing he’s done so far strikes me as thinking he’s the type, but let that pass for the moment – as it is whether there’s a school out there eager enough for his services to allow him to become a trailblazer. ‘Cause it would be a pretty big deal.
It would be nice if Smith could follow the path of some college basketball stars and decline to sign the NLI. Only that would be terribly risky. He is just one player, and coaches may be more interested in protecting an arrangement tilted ludicrously in their favor than in nabbing a highly touted linebacker. Maybe the Bruins, Bulldogs, Wolverines and Aggies would decide he isn’t worth the potential hit to the system. Of course, given the intensity with which UCLA’s Jim Mora, Georgia’s Mark Richt, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin recruit, it seems unlikely that all would pass on a player they clearly want.
But if they all did? Well, that might open up another can of worms.
… Also, if all these competitors in the market for college football talent did conspire to shun a player they obviously covet, then Smith might get a call from Michael Hausfeld or Jeffrey Kessler. Hausfeld is the attorney who cleaned the NCAA’s clock in the O’Bannon case. Kessler is the attorney who hopes to leave a smoking crater in Indianapolis where the NCAA headquarters currently sit with his Jenkins v. NCAA case.
So I guess it all depends on whether Smith asks the question in the first place. That’s unlikely. It sure is interesting that Harold is raising the possibility, though. Even more interesting will be seeing who’s paying attention.