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What is a National Letter of Intent?

Signing the National Letter of Intent is a life-altering decision, as it marks the next phase of a young adult's life and creates the foundation of their next 40 years. As a leader in this industry there are some things I believe you should be aware of.

First and foremost: signing the NLI is a legally binding contract between the student-athlete and the institution. The NLI will bind the student-athlete to the school and program for one academic school year. Note that I didn't mention the coach. Student-athletes should like the coaching staff, of course, but they should not pick a school solely on the coach, because you are committed to the school, not the coach.

In order for an athlete to sign the NLI, the school must provide them with an athletic scholarship. Once they sign the NLI, there is no room left to negotiate and leverage their scholarship and financial packages, so please ask all questions before they sign on that dotted line.

Asking questions, visiting the school and understanding what the school and program offers you are key! You must be 100% sure of your decision, as there can be penalties if you sign and want to back out. (see below).

Before a Division I or Division II school can put an offer on the table, you have to have completed the following first:

  1. Register with the NCAA Eligibility Center

  2. Provide the school with a copy of their transcript

  3. Be put on the school's institutional request list (IRL)

  4. Division I Only: complete the amateurism questionnaire with the NCAA Eligibility Center.

Did you know that:

  • Even if you sign the NLI, you must be a qualifier according to the NCAA Eligibility Center to keep your scholarship? Make sure you work hard in the classroom till the very end and that you have the right core classes and test scores. Actual qualifier status is not determined until after graduation from high school.

  • Division III schools do not use a letter of intent as a form of commitment in their recruiting but they do offer aspiring college athletes an NCAA Congratulatory Letter. All D3 institutions and their recruited student-athletes are permitted to sign a standard, nonbinding athletics celebratory signing form, which is crafted by the NCAA and distributed to D3 schools so they can affix it to school letterhead and provide it to the student-athletes. There has been debate on whether it should or should not be binding but as of now, the nonbinding caveat must stay in place for the document to successfully serve its purpose. It ensures that academics, not athletics, govern D3 student-athletes’ college choices. Students cannot use this form until they have been accepted to attend the institution.

  • Before an NAIA school can put their offer on the table they must make sure they have registered for the NAIA's Eligibility Center and then, if the college subscribes to the NLI program, a NLI may be signed.

A National Letter of Intent (NLI) is signed by a college-bound student-athlete when the student-athlete agrees to attend a college or university for one academic year. Participating institutions agree to provide financial aid for one academic year to the student-athlete as long as the student-athlete is admitted to the school and is eligible for financial aid under NCAA or NAIA rules. The National Letter of Intent is voluntary and not required for a student-athlete to receive financial aid or participate in sports.
Signing a NLI ends the recruiting process since participating schools are prohibited from recruiting student-athletes who have already signed letters with other participating schools.

A student-athlete who has signed a NLI may request a release from his or her contract with the school. If a student-athlete signs a NLI with one school but attends a different school, he or she will lose one full year of eligibility and must complete a full academic year at their new school before being eligible to compete.

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