USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide from Fred Bastie, the owner and founder of Playced.com. Playced.com is an industry leader in college recruiting. Their technology based recruiting service identifies the right colleges for potential recruits to pursue and provides a recruiting system that is second to none for student athletes of all talent levels and ages.
Well, it’s here again! It’s the first Wednesday in February and that means today is National Signing Day for NCAA football, soccer and men’s water polo. Today is an exciting time for many athletes in these sports. Just in case you’re wondering, the Regular Period Initial Signing Day for all other NCAA sports is April 12, 2017. Except for the Early Signing Period, these dates represent the first day a high school senior can sign a binding National Letter of Intent (NLI) with an NCAA college.
Please note that these are NOT the only days OR the last days a high school senior can sign a NLI, or receive an athletic scholarship. The NLI signing period for football lasts through April 1, 2017, Division I basketball ends on May 17, 2017 and the signing period for all other NCAA sports ends on August 1, 2017.
In the world of Division I college football the National Signing Day has almost become a holiday and the signing days for all other sports are almost as celebrated. That said, you need to understand that not all Division I and Division II schools use National Letters of Intent. The program is not mandatory and currently includes 650 Division I and Division II institutions. Division III schools do not use NLIs at all and NAIA schools have their own version of letters of intent. Keep in mind that you don’t have to sign an NLI to play in college or to receive a scholarship.
The facts about signing a National Letter of Intent
In order to deal with the complexities and stress of when or if you sign a NLI, you really need to understand the system. Here are some important facts to consider.
* The NLI is a voluntary program with regard to both institutions and student-athletes. No prospective student-athlete or parent is required to sign an NLI and no institution is required to join the program.
* An NLI is a binding agreement between a college and a student-athlete. The student-athlete agrees to attend the school for one year and the school agrees to provide financial aid for one year.
* Signing an NLI ends the recruiting process since other colleges are prohibited from contacting a student-athlete who has already signed an NLI.
* If a student-athlete signs an NLI with one school, but opts to attend a different school, he or she will lose one full year of eligibility.
* The NLI is a contract between a prospective student-athlete and a school, not an agreement between an athlete and a coach. If the coach that recruited you leaves, you are still obligated to that school.
* Signing an NLI does not guarantee admission. Each school has its own admission requirements and if the prospective student-athlete is not admitted, the NLI is not in effect.
If you don’t sign an National Letter of Intent today
If you don’t sign an NLI today, all is not lost. There is no reason to panic, but unless you are looking for a water polo scholarship, you can’t afford to just tread water any longer. You need to get after it right now. You can still sign an NLI until the signing period is over for your sport, although that is extremely unlikely unless you are currently talking with college coaches about that possibility. You can also sign a scholarship with a college that doesn’t participate in the NLI program, or you can pursue a scholarship with an NAIA school or an NCAA Division III program.
If you’re a senior and haven’t found a college roster spot yet, there are still options available at many colleges in most sports, but you have to determine why your previous efforts haven’t been successful. In my opinion, here are the top three reasons why you haven’t found that right college match yet:
1. You’re pursuing the wrong schools. You have to be honest with yourself and pursue colleges that match your abilities.
2. You’re waiting for the college coaches to find you. Wake up! If you’re a senior and they haven’t found you yet, they aren’t going to find you now. You have to find them.
3. You don’t want to play in college as much as you thought. If you really want to play in college it’s time to take ownership of your recruiting journey. You can’t hand the process off to someone else and expect your National Letter of Intent to be delivered to your doorstep. That won’t happen.
Here’s the deal
If you will be signing an NLI today or sometime soon; Congratulations, that is an amazing accomplishment! If you are a senior who is still looking, at this point don’t waste your time on Division I elite programs. Their recruiting classes are full. Look at the smaller Division I schools, Division II, NAIA and even Division III colleges. Then check the rosters and recruiting classes at the colleges in which you have an interest. If there isn’t a need at your position, move on to the next option. Once you have identified your realistic college options, contact the coaches at those schools right away. Your window of opportunity is closing a little every day.