Everything You Need to Know About the National Letter of Intent

The recruiting buzz this time of year for seniors typically centers on the National Letter of Intent (NLI) and corresponding signing dates.  This is one of the most important and often times misunderstood aspects of the recruiting process.  For many student-athletes, the signing of their NLI is the culmination of all the hard work they have put towards athletics, academics, and recruiting.  For other student-athletes, the lack of a NLI to sign indicates a need to shift their expectations and focus on different schools.  Either way, it is critical for student-athletes of all ages to understand the NLI.

Let’s start with the basics.

What is the National Letter of Intent?

The NLI is a voluntary program consisting of 610 DI and DII schools.  DIII, Junior Colleges and NAIA universities do not participate in the NLI program.  The NLI is a binding agreement between the student-athlete and the college that, when signed, indicates the student-athlete has agreed to attend the chosen college for one academic year and the college has agreed to provide athletic financial aid for one academic year.

Why only one academic year?

Athletic scholarships are renewable every year at the college’s discretion and the student-athlete is notified annually regarding whether or not the athletic aid has been extended.  However, the student-athlete is not required to sign a NLI each year.  It is also important to note that the agreement encompasses a full academic year and not only the athletic season.

Do I have to sign a NLI?

No, the National Letter of Intent is a voluntary program for both student-athletes and the colleges choosing to participate.

If it’s voluntary, why should I sign the NLI?

Basically, the NLI provides security for both the college and student-athlete.  For the student-athlete, the NLI serves as assurance of an athletic scholarship for one full academic year.  It also signals the end of the recruiting process and bans other college programs from pursuing a student athlete.  For the college, the NLI focuses on a commitment to the academic institution rather than a team or coach so the student-athlete’s education is the priority.

How do I get a NLI?

The college providing the athletic aid will send you the official NLI through one of the following ways; express mail, courier service, regular mail, email, or fax.

When do I sign the NLI?

You can only sign during the designated period for your sport outlined below.  If you sing the NLI outside the appropriate period, the NLI will be considered void.  The student-athlete and a parent or legal guardian must sign the NLI within 14 days of issuance.  Student athletes may sign the NLI before being certified by the NCAA Eligibility Center, however if they are deemed a non-qualifier, the NLI is rendered void.  For updated signing days (since the ones below are from last year, click here)

NLI Dates

Is there anything else I should know about the NLI?

There are quite a few rules and regulations governing the voluntary program and here are a few to keep in mind:

  • The college coach cannot be present if the NLI is signed off campus.
  • Student-athletes are able to sign a NLI while on campus for an official visit.
  • Student-athletes are allowed to make a verbal commitment and then sign the NLI with a different school since the verbal agreement is non-binding.
  • The NLI does not guarantee playing time, only a financial reward for one academic year.
  • Student-athletes cannot sign a NLI for two sports since the commitment is towards the academic institution and not a coach or specific sports team.
  • If the student-athlete is under the age of 21, a parent or legal guardian must also sign the NLI.
  • If the student-athlete changes their mind about attending the institution with which they signed the NLI, the basic penalty is a loss of one year of eligibility.
  • The NLI is binding even if the coach who offered the letter leaves the college.

What happens if I do not receive a NLI?

That is a great question and thousands of student-athletes every year do not sign a NLI and go on to play their sport in college.  Next week, I will explain what you should do if you do not have a NLI to sign.

Comments Closed

  1. I am so happy for this timely newsletter. It has answered or at least adjusted my thinking about the whole process of college recruitment

  2. Briana Williams

    This was very informative about the national letter of intent. This will definitely help me in my planning.

  3. testing

  4. I am a senior waiting eagly for my letter. I just requested on January 16, 2009 from my school of choice. Will it be wrong to sign in January or February though the regular period is in April

  5. Alvin LaBostrie

    Hello I plan on being a great NFL running back, but first there is a few obstacles i must over come. I have a question that needs answering. I plan on going to a JC for a year or maybe half a year to better my skills and obtain more experience. Can I transfer from that JC in a years time to go to a school such as USC?

  6. Joe

    Alvin you can transfer from a JC, but USC is not known for taking JC transfers if you look at their last 5 yrs of rosters. Better rethink that or get your grades up.

    I’d like to know WHY so many students have been hoodwinked into thinking the NLI gives them a 4 yr ride to a college when its only a one year renewable contract. Kids are cut from D1 schools all the time, Miami for instance has shuttled kids out the door because they were not good enough to stay, not to mention the transfers out. Which brings a question:

    If you don’t sign a NLI but have worked out that you will be attending XYZ university if they put the player on scholarship, is transferring to a different institution allowed if the coach leaves without you completing the 4 yrs and not taking the one year Red Shirt penalty?

  7. morgan

    just to reiterate… if i have committed to a D1 football program as a preferred walk-on, i do not sign an NLI. however, coaches talked to me about after i have redshirted a year, that they would give me a scholarship. then would i sign an NLI?

  8. Adam Diorio

    Morgan – You will not have to sign a NLI if you are already enrolled at the school. Most likely the coach will provide you with scholarship papers to sign but it will not be considered a NLI.

  9. mike jones

    if i signed my NLI for football at a d1A school and have not been here for a year and want to transfer to a d1AA what are the penalties??

  10. Ryan Newman

    Mike, when you sign your letter of intent, you are saying you are going to attend that school for one academic year. So, in the schools eyes you are currently enrolled. If you would want to back out of it now you would have to go through the transfer process, which would start with getting a release from your current school. Your current school has the authority over who you can/can not contact, however, typically if you are transferring down one year there is no penalty. View this link for more info:

  11. Jamie

    My son has been given two offers from D1 schools. The first is for a partial scholarship beginning his first year and presumably each yr. after since they do not give “fulls”. The second university (where he really would like to go) has given a “promise” of a minimum of a partial his sophmore yr. (this could be a “full”) and a “full” his jr. & sr. yrs. if he is willing to play without scholarship money his first freshman yr. This makes us feel very vulnerable. Is there any way to put something like this promise in writing to give him more of a guarantee?

  12. Nikki

    Great information and comments! Now, I’ve got answers in the past to a few questions, and I’d like to ask one more!

    If I were to sign a NLI with a school and they offer a 1 year scholarship – does that allow me to transfer after the school year? I’ve fulfilled my obligation – and if there’s a change in coaches or in the program – am I obligated to the school since the NLI was only for the one year?

    I guess there can be several reasons as to why a student/athlete may want to transfer, so that’s why this question comes up – if a college can forego offering you a 2nd year scholarship or drop you from the team because the NLI was only for the one season – does the student/athlete have the same opportunity (even if they had an outstanding year) to transfer to a better school, one closer to home, or even transfer to a smaller school for more playing time?

    And I would hope I (or anyone else) wouldn’t have to sit out a year if a transfer were to take place. Or, if the school wanted to offer you a 2nd year – would you still be obligated by the previous one year NLI contract? Help me with this one,…. I don’t know why schools just don’t offer 4 year deals, and I see a lot of transfers without the players sitting out a season.

  13. Keith

    Nikki – Playing college sports is a priviledge, not an entitlement. Your questions imply that you’re looking for a way to ensure you get to pick your school or assure that college will be fully-funded for 4 years. There are no guarantees and I’m okay with that. On the flip side, how does a college know that you’re going to do all they ask to improve athletically, go to class, earn good grades, be a credit to their school, etc. Realistically, what guarantee are you providing a college who may be funding some or all of your first year in college? So that’s why there is no such thing as a 4 year full ride. That’s why scholarships are renewed on an annual basis. I hope this helps.

  14. Keith

    Jamie – There is no formal mechanism to have that guarantee from the university your son wants to attend. You could ask for that in writing and hang on to that, but if the coach left the next year, there is nothing that obligates the new coach or the athletic department to honor what’s written. In this case, you’ll have to list all the pros and cons for attending each university and see which best fits your situation. Good luck!

  15. Kaye

    If you are currently attending a D1 university on a full ride scholarship what are the rules as far as when your scholarship is renewed? Do you sign another NLI each year during the early signing period?

  16. John

    If I have signed a NLI, can I apply to other schools as a non-athlete with the possibility of requesting a release from the school I signed with?

  17. Keith

    John – Why would you want to do that? Implicit in your signed NLI is that that school is the best choice for you. Why keep applying to other schools? Are you not a man of your word?

  18. Keith

    Kaye – If you remain at the same school, it’s unnecessary for you to sign more than one NLI. Depending on the policies of your individual institution, you’ll sign renewal papers with the school each year. Ask your college coach about the policy at the school you’ll be playing for.

  19. John

    I think I made a mistake when I signed so I’m considering asking for a release. I would not feel right playing at another school, so I would apply as a regular student. But I don’t want to end up with no school to go to, so I would go to the school I signed with if nothing else works out and just play my sport there. I can’t find any information on the legality of applying to other schools after signing a NLI. I realize that many will consider this unethical, but I learned some things about the team I will be on that are pretty negative.

  20. Keith

    John – Play on the team you signed with. Change the things that are negative. Maybe that’s why you were recruited. Good luck.

  21. John

    I probably will play on the team I signed with. But is it illegal to apply? Just out of interest because it doesn’t seem to be published anywhere.

  22. Keith

    John – I’m not a lawyer. Check with a lawyer to see if it’s illegal. S/he will read the agreement you signed and let you know their opinion of whether it’s legal to apply to other schools.

  23. Judi

    What reasons would you not have to sit for year if you transfered to another school?

  24. Rachel

    I signed and NLI with a DIv II shvcool, and have changed my mind. Can I move to a D3 school and NOT lose a year of eligibility?

  25. Rachel

    I signed an NLI with a DIv II school, and have changed my mind. Can I move to a D3 school and NOT lose a year of eligibility?

  26. You should be OK!, it would just prevent them from receiving athletic aid at another school for a full year

  27. Iris

    Amber – It sounds like you might have a major problem, not just a situation. A high school coach would get fired, and quite possibly arrested, for dating any student, at any school, in any city, in any state, regardless of the student’s status on a particular team. And well they should. If someone like this is suggesting a relationship with you, tell your parents or a trusted adult and stay away from that person. I don’t care how cute, or fun, or caring, or charming you think this person is. He is nothing but trouble and perhaps even a danger to you.

  28. jennifer

    If i say that i will sign with them today and do sign…can i back out before school starts?

  29. Keith

    Jennifer – Why sign if you’re going to back out? It doesn’t make sense.

  30. Myles

    I signed a NLI with a pricey out of state D-2 school thinking they had the right major for my career and my family could afford it. After signing my family went through unexpected hard financial times (loan fell through, pay cut) and found out that their ciriculum wont work for my grad school dreams. I’m not backing out of my word due to playing time, etc. Its strictly financial and academic reasons. Does a college have the authority to rip up my NLI and free me? Or do I lose 1 year of eligilbilty?

  31. Steven

    I already signed a NLI to a Division 2 school for baseball. My summer coach says that I can still sign a Division 1 letter in the summer if a school decides they want me to play there. Is he right? Can I do that?