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National Letter of Intent and National Signing Day

National Letter of Intent and National Signing Day.

One of the most exciting moments for a student-athlete is receiving a verbal scholarship offer. Years of hard work have led to this moment. However, nothing is official until you sign the National Letter of Intent (NLI.) Not every school uses the NLI—about 650 NCAA DI and DII schools—and it’s not mandatory to sign. The National Letter of Intent is not affiliated directly with the NCAA; it was created by the Collegiate Commissioners Association to protect both the college and student from either party backing out.

Insider tip: NAIA and NJCAA have their own versions of the letter. If your student-athlete is attending school in one of those divisions, be sure to understand the nuances of those letter programs.

New signing period rules for 2018-19 school year

Starting in the 2018-19 school year, significant updates to the signing period rules are going to speed up the timeline for seniors looking to sign with a school. In the past, there was an early signing period (usually in November) followed by a break over the holidays (dead period) before signing NLIs resumed in the spring during the regular signing period. Starting this year, all athletes outside of football and men’s and women’s D1 basketball players can begin signing scholarships on November 14, 2018 and continue to sign anytime through August 1, 2019.

While much of the recruiting process happens long before November of your senior year, the fact that athletes will be ending their recruiting by signing NLIs earlier means recruiting in the lower divisions will likely speed up as well. In the past, NCAA D2, D3 and NAIA schools would wait for D1 programs to complete their recruiting classes before ramping up their signings. Now that D1 schools will be completing their signings earlier, expect all other division levels to be busy over the holidays and early in 2019 instead of mid to late spring.

Insider tip: If you are a senior in the class of 2019, you have no time to wait. Opportunities are going to fill up even earlier than before. For all underclassman, this should put you on notice to make sure you have a solid recruiting relationship going into your senior year instead of waiting to get started.

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What signing the NLI means

Signing on the dotted line of the National Letter of Intent means three things:

  1. Your student-athlete has committed to one year at the university. They do not need to sign an NLI after their first year. The school is required to let student-athletes know if their scholarship is being renewed after the first year.
  2. The university is promising to provide an athletic scholarship for that year. The NLI and financial aid package are two separate documents. Your student-athlete will need to sign both.
  3. Your student-athlete’s recruiting journey is over. No other schools can continue to recruit them.

An NLI is a legal, binding contract. So, it is something you are going to want to fully understand before signing it. Your athlete’s new coach and representatives from the school can help answer your questions or concerns when it comes to signing the NLI. 

Insider tip: If your student-athlete has been invited to walk-on (no scholarship), they will not sign a National Letter of Intent. Learn more about being a walk-on.

Keep in mind that signing an NLI does not mean your student-athlete has been admitted into the university. Schools have separate admission requirements that student-athletes must meet in order to be enrolled.

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Early Signing Period

This is the first time throughout the year high school seniors can sign their National Letter of Intent and lock down their scholarship offer. Early signing periods are great for athletes who have an offer from one of their top schools, and they’re ready to make the commitment as soon as possible.

Athletes don’t have to sign during the early period if they are holding out for an offer from one of their favorite schools. If you do have an offer and you don’t sign during the early signing period, however, that coach may question your commitment and consider giving your spot to an athlete who’s a sure thing. Make sure you’re ready to tell a coach why you didn’t sign if you opt out.

Early signing period really marks the beginning of scholarship musical chairs. If you aren’t signing during this period, don’t worry—but keep working hard to make sure you have an offer lined up by the regular signing period. Contact all the coaches on your list, and find new ways to show them that you should be their next recruit.

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Regular Signing Period

This is the period of time in which athletes who have verbal offers from college coaches will make their athletic scholarships official by signing their National Letter of Intent. The first day of the signing period is Signing Day, and it’s marked by celebrations, reveals and a lot of college gear. Remember: Athletes can sign with their school of choice on any day of the signing period. Signing Day just marks the first day of the full signing period. 

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Early enrollment

High school seniors can opt to graduate a semester early so they are able to attend college one semester ahead of schedule. This gives them the opportunity to practice with the team and learn the system before their first season as a college athlete. It also allows the athletes to take classes while they aren’t yet fully immersed in the busy schedule of an in-season athlete. However, not everyone is a proponent of early enrollment, including some coaches. They argue that senior year student-athletes should be spending time with high school friends and teammates, perhaps competing in another sport, attending prom and celebrating their last year as a high school student.

Currently, early enrollment is a growing trend in Division I football, but it’s not long before other sports join in. If you think early enrollment might be right for you, talk to the coach who’s recruiting you and triple check that you’ll still be academically eligible without your last semester of course. 

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National Signing Day

For many sports, especially in Division I, National Signing Day has become a celebrated event. Technically, student-athletes do not need to sign their National Letters of Intent on the first day of the signing period, but many do. Below are the signing dates for each sport for student-athletes signing in 2018-2019 for 2019-2020 enrollment:

Sport Initial Signing Date Final Signing Date
D1 Basketball (early period) November 14, 2018 November 21, 2018
D1 Basketball (regular period) April 17, 2019 May 15, 2019
D1 Football (early period) December 19, 2018 December 21, 2018
D1 and D2 Football (mid-year JC transfer) December 19, 2018 January 15, 2019
D1 and D2 Football (regular period) February 6, 2019 Division I: April 1, 2019
Division II: August 1, 2019
All other D1 and D2 sports (regular period) November 14, 2018 August 1, 2019

Insider tip: You can sign a National Letter Intent after the last signing period ends, but it is rare that there will be any roster spots left.

When your student-athlete receives their NLI document, the appropriate signing period should be checked. If the signing period has begun for their sport, they must sign within seven days of the issue date (noted on the document). If they receive the NLI document before the signing period window opens, they must wait until 7 a.m. of the first date of the period. The student-athlete's parent or legal guardian must also sign the document; college coaches cannot be present during the signing.

Insider tip: You do not have to have final certification by the NCAA Eligibility Center in order to sign a NLI. However, if you do not receive certification by the time you start school, your NLI will be null and void and you will lose your scholarship.

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National Letter of Intent release rules

If your student-athlete changes their mind about the school they signed an NLI with, they must ask to be released from the program. If they are not granted a release form, the player will lose one year of eligibility. A common reason why student-athletes decide to enroll in a school other than the one they've signed an NLI with is if the coach at the program leaves the school. The National Letter of Intent is a legal contract between a school and a student-athlete; they are not tied to coaches.

Insider tip: If your student-athlete isn't granted a release and they don't want to sit out for a year, they can play at the junior college level or sign with a NAIA school. Learn why junior college might make sense for you.

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