USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Mike Adler was a 3-sport captain in high school who went onto play running back for DIAA Morehead State University in Kentucky. Mike is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
We’ve all seen it. A high school football player sitting at a table on signing day with 3 or 4 hats in front of him. Family and friends gather and with the cameras all around, he announces to the world where he’ll be playing his college ball for the next few years. While this is a very common perception of signing day, this is not a common reality for most student-athletes. Only a few elite athletes get their “choice of the litter.” Let’s take a look at a more likely scenario for most student-athletes on signing day.
Signing day is the first, not the only day to sign
Many families believe that their student-athlete must sign their National Letter of Intent (NLI) on signing day and if they don’t, they missed their chance at a scholarship. This simply isn’t true. Signing day is simply the first day when your athlete can sign their NLI.
If you receive an NLI prior to signing day, congratulations. Your recruiting work has paid off. If the school is one of your top picks and it is a good fit athletically and academically, you can sign your letter as soon as 7:00 am on the first signing day. However, you have up to 14 days from the time you receive your letter to sign. Before signing, check your NLI document for a deadline date. Why wait? Well, the NLI is a legally binding document and you want to make sure you fully understand all parts of the agreement. While everyone is eager to sign, be sure to talk with school admissions if you have any questions prior to signing.
READ MORE: What is a National Letter of Intent
Remember, while it’s true, many student-athletes sign on day one, there are still many others that sign later, too. For a lot of student-athletes, they’re not 100-percent sure of which school they want to attend, so they don’t decide on day one. An athlete that signs before thinking it through may be reacting more on emotion rather than logic. They need to have enough time to weigh all of their options. After all, this will probably be the biggest decision of their life to date. Some athletes choose to wait to sign later in the process in hopes that a better offer will come. This however, can be a gamble because they may get better scholarship offers, but on the flipside, they may lose what is on the table. It’s a fine line and there is no right timetable. Each athlete and their family’s recruiting process is different–right up to signing day.
Signing period for many sports is coming up quickly. You can find the dates for your sports here.
What about early signing period?
Outside of men’s and women’s soccer and men’s water polo, all sports have what’s called an early signing period. This is a set window of time where an athlete can sign their NLI prior to the regular signing period. This is the first year where football will have an early signing period for only Division I. Early signing is typically offered to top-tier prospects whom the college coach believes can come in and have an immediate impact.
So, what are the advantages of signing early? It could be your student-athlete is confident it’s the school they want to go to and they are ready to wrap up recruiting and focus on their senior year. This takes the pressure off of having to continue to weigh their options. For some student-athletes, it could be the opportunity to come in right away and compete for a starting position. For others, they believe there’s simply more scholarship money for them if they sign sooner, rather than later. One thing to always consider is that your athlete may lose their scholarship offer if they’re asked to sign early and don’t. That coach wants your student-athlete to be a part of their program and by waiting to sign it may give the coach the impression your son or daughter is not interested and the coach will just move on. Keep in mind, your athlete is not the only one getting recruited to that school.
Division I, II and junior colleges only
Technically, signing day is only applicable to a student-athlete playing at the Division I or II level. It also applies to a student-athlete who was previously at a junior college and is signing their NLI to transfer to compete at a Division I or II program. Division III, NAIA colleges and walk-on athletes are not required to sign an NLI.
Signing day myths
Just because an athlete signs their NLI doesn’t mean they’re automatically admitted to that university. Your student-athlete must apply for admissions, pay the application fee and be admitted to the school just like any other student would wanting to attend that university. Typically, a coach won’t sign a student they don’t believe will get accepted. However, sometimes a coach will sign a player who is on the border of meeting the required academic standards in belief that the athlete’s last semester of high school or junior college will get them eligible.
Another myth is that by signing an NLI, your athlete will automatically receive an athletic scholarship. Until your athlete is admitted to the university, they will not receive that scholarship. If the athlete is deemed a non-qualifier, their NLI will be declared null and void and they will not receive a scholarship.
Final thoughts, my own signing day experience
As someone who went through this stressful process, I can personally attest that signing day isn’t your last shot at playing in college. My junior year of high school, I was recruited by several FBS (commonly known as Division IA) schools. I incurred an injury at the start of my senior season and suddenly, all the FBS schools were gone. I was forced to re-evaluate my recruiting process. I began to consider FCS schools (commonly known as Division IAA). Signing day came and went and I was still actively taking official visits pretty much every weekend. I didn’t end up signing my NLI until the end of April. That’s nearly three months after signing day! I was still fortunate enough to receive a scholarship, play four years and earn my college degree. Hopefully, my story can shed some light that signing day is the beginning, and not necessarily the end.