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. Nelson Gord is a former collegiate and professional ballplayer, successful high school head coach and also the founder of the largest travel baseball club in Illinois. Nelson 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, helped create NCSA Team Edition, the free recruiting platform for club and high school coaches.
For most Division I and Division II college sports, National Signing Day occurred this year on November 14, 2018. It’s a big day for thousands of student-athletes (and parents) as it marks the end of their college-recruiting journey. Families can rest easy knowing where their athletes will be attending next year and coaches can finally start filling up their empty roster spots in preparation for the upcoming season. And even though the signing period for most Division I and Division II athletes is ongoing, the National Signing Day remains tremendously important for student-athletes and college athletic programs. That’s why we’ve compiled a few numbers that shine a light on National Signing Day and initial signing dates.
48,000 student-athletes sign a NLI every year
The National Letter of Intent acts as a binding agreement between a prospective student-athlete and the college where said student-athlete plans to compete. It has been around since 1964 and was initially implemented because teams began stealing players that were enrolled at other schools. The letter essentially committed a student-athlete to one school and stopped other schools from pursuing them. According to the NLI website, there are now more than 48,000 signees of the National Letter of Intent every year. That’s a lot of student-athletes, considering that no prospective student-athlete or parent is required to sign the NLI and no institution is required to join the program. Nevertheless, signing the NLI has essentially become the norm and these days 657 different Division I and Division II institutions are participants.
80 percent of FBS roster spots are filled after the early signing period
According to numbers from Zcruit, an NCSA subsidiary, 80 to 85 percent of FBS college football roster spots for the 2019 season were filled after the early signing period (December 19 – December 21, 2018). In 2018, 2,224 football players signed during the early signing period. Meanwhile, the regular signing period for D-I and D-II football starts on February 6, 2019. Why do athletic programs rush to sign their recruits? One of the biggest reasons is because they want top recruits to commit before a rival program snags them. Top recruits receive a lot of attention, so by the time that the early signing period rolls around, they already have several options and tend to sign. So, for athletic programs, getting early signees is usually essential for securing a top-rated incoming class of athletes. In D-I football, a team needs two top-10 classes on their roster to win a National Championship, so the initial signing date is very much a scramble for the top talent.
Football teams offer 25 scholarships annually but there are only 85 spots
Early signing has become so important for some sports that in some cases the numbers don’t even seem to add up anymore. For example, a college football FBS roster can (and usually does) give out 25 full-ride scholarships each year, but the final roster can only have 85 scholarship players at a time (which is fewer than the expected 100). Some programs even commit to giving out more than 25 scholarships on signing day. So how does this add up? Well, some players end up quitting, transferring or getting hurt and filling a roster can become a balancing act. That’s why programs want to get athletes signed as early as they can (on National Signing Day, or in the case of football, the initial signing date) and smooth out their roster later.
One signing period is now the norm for most sports
In the past, NCAA sports typically all had split signing periods. If student-athletes didn’t sign their NLI with a school during the early signing period, they had to wait several months for the regular period to begin. For instance, recruits who didn’t sign last November had to wait until April to sign. But with the new NCAA rule going into effect, early signing day no longer exists for most D-I and D-II sports. Basketball and football still observe early signing periods followed by longer regular signing periods, but all other D-II and D-II sports now just have one extended period.
Interested in finding out more about National Signing Day, the National Letter of Intent or initial signing periods? Our NCSA guide has everything you need to know.