Friday, June 09, 2006

My Word is my Bond........maybe.......

What is the deal with college recruits these days? Players are backing out of the National Letters of Intent (NLI) like it's going out of style. Excuses range from reasonable (coaching change) to ridiculous (unavailable playing time - shouldn't you have to work for it?). Understandably making this decision is a very important choice in a young man/woman's life, but shouldn't a life lesson be learned here? If you are going to sign a contract, read it in its entirety and understand all of it, because once you sign your name on the dotted line then you are bound by the contractual agreement........right?

Here are a few things that have been bouncing around in my head lately that have me wondering what is going on with the NCAA and recruiting. I've recently discovered that the NLI that highschool seniors sign is not actually governed by the NCAA. The Collegiate Commissioners Association (CCA) is the group that administers the NLI as a contractual agreement between the University and the player. This system was put into place in 1964 as a way for players to ensure they would receive one of the available scholarships at the University in question, otherwise the University would have the right to give the scholarship to a higher rated player as late as the day before classes began. I have read the NLI and it is clearly written to protect the player, but there are a few provisions that protect the University as well.

The National Letter of Intent has many advantages to both prospective
student-athletes and participating educational institutions:

  • Once a National Letter of Intent is signed, prospective student-athletes are no longer subject to further recruiting contacts and calls.
  • Student-athletes are assured of an athletics scholarship for one full academic year. (If not for the National Letter of Intent program, a student could find his or her scholarship taken by a more highly recruited student only weeks or days before classes begin.)
  • Institutions can be certain that once the student-athlete has signed a Letter of Intent, there is no need to continue recruiting for that position. (Without the program, last-minute changes by student-athletes could open scholarships and positions on teams.)
  • By emphasizing student-athletes' commitments to educational institutions, not particular coaches or teams, the program focuses university athletics on educational objectives. The program promotes student-athletes' academic objectives and helps to sustain the amateur nature of college sports.

Unlike some contracts that a person may have to sign in the course of their lifetime (starting a job, buying a car/house, getting married, etc.), all of the verbiage utilized in the NLI is highschool level writing and should be easily understood by a player with the academic ability to enter into the University in question. So I'm not really sure why so many players are backing out of their NLIs and getting away with it. Don't get me wrong I know that there is the transfer policy that dictates that a player sit out an entire year prior to playing for the new University, but players (already in college) are appealing these rulings. As for highschool players, they are trying to get out of their NLIs before they even get to school and they don't want to be penalized for it either. Here's a couple examples of players, what they have done, and why (good and bad):

Larry Davis - BAD - NC State basketball recruit who wished to re-open his recruitment because Herb Sendek left (this is covered in the NLI as not a reason to get out of NLI) - NC State granted a conditional release stating the Davis would be allowed out of his NLI if he gave new Coach Sidney Lowe a chance to recruit him prior to making a decision (school = accommodating) - Davis elected to disregard his end of the deal and his since committed to Seton Hall and hopes to receive a full release (player = not accommodating) - In my opinion he should not be given a full release.

Dennis Horner - GOOD - NC State basketball recruit who was granted, without request, a conditional release in the same manor as Davis when Sendek left (school = accommodating) - Horner briefly considered his options and re-affirmed that he would be attending NC State, because he made a commitment to play here and felt it was the right move both athletically and academically (player = accommodating) - Bravo Dennis!

Dan Werner - GOOD - NC State basketball recruit who was granted, per his request, a conditional release in the same manor as Davis and Horner (school = accommodating) - Werner is considering his options at Kentucky and Florida, but, per the agreement with NC State, has stated on multiple occasions that he plans to give Coach Lowe and chance to sit down with him before he makes any decisions (player = accommodating) - In my opinion, if he meets with Coach Lowe and decides NC State is no longer the right fit, then I think NC State should give him the full release, but only if he properly files for release like his contract states he should.

I'm using these three as examples, because I am most familiar with their particular situations. Players all over the country are withdrawing from commitments and changing schools. According to the NLI bylaws a player can only be granted a full release by the University or through the appeal process in which the NLI Steering Committee must determine that there were "extenuating circumstances," which is determined on a case by case basis. The coaching change is most commonly used as the reason for decommitting, but according to Torie Johnson - director of the NLI program - a coaching change -- by itself -- does not constitute "extenuating circumstances." However, in recent years, many players who initially approached the steering committee because of a coaching change ultimately found other grounds to win their appeals.

So after all of this I am led to wonder......who holds more power these days - a 100 year old University with honor, tradition, and strong academics or an 18 year old kid who thinks everything should be handed to him on a silver platter?


Blogger Fanuch said...

Interesting points you bring up Mr. Nation. I do agree wholehartedly, but your examples all deal with a coaching change, which in my belief is a great reason to want to rescind on a contract. I understand they should give the coach a chance, but when you are recruited by one coach, and a coaching change is made before you even enter the school, it may be a personal preference that you wanted to attend the school specifically for the basketball coach, which I am sure is why the NLI allows coaching changes as a reason to look elsewhere.

1:16 PM  
Blogger Joe Borrelli said...

Ah, but the NLI does not allow coaching changes as a reason to look elsewhere.....the NLI specifically states that the student is signing on with the school and not the coach and that coaching changes are common occurences.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Fanuch said...

Point taken. I guess I just am one of those spoiled modern day athletes who would ponder leaving if I didn't like the coaching change made before I started with the institution. Thanks for the clarification in "Part II"

2:33 PM  
Blogger Hairy Carrot said...

I agree with you that NLI's are binding contracts that should be honored by both parties involved. Unfortunately, there are too many athletes, especially at the professional level that don't feel they are required to do this, by holding out or sitting out training camps. Once the precedent has been set, it opens the door for high school/college kids to do the same.
Legally speaking, though, I'm not sure if a minor can bind a contract with his/her signature. Since a lot of NLI's are signed by high school juniors (17 years old), this may be a factor. I'm not sure on that, or if their parents are able sign for them. Let me know.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Joe Borrelli said...

Section 11 of the NLI states:

"Parent/Guardian Signature Required. My parent or legal guardian is required to sign this NLI if I am less than 21 years of age at the time of my signing, regardless of my marital status. If I do not have a living parent or a legal guardian, the person who is acting in the capacity of a guardian may seek permission from the NLI Steering Committee to sign this NLI."

With this in mind it would seem to me that the law would hold up this as a legally binded document.

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