Letters of Intent Should Reflect a Mutual Agreement

By Martine Trinka  

The Letters of Intent (LOI) that prospective collegiate athletes are enticed to sign seem unconscionable in their current form and therefore should be changed to more accurately reflect two parties contracting in an arms-length transaction. Although student athletes are not required to sign the LOI, signing it is the only mechanism available to bind the school to their scholarship commitment.  

The current form of the LOI is unconscionable because it is a one-sided agreement that favors the educational institution. Only the most skilled athletes have the bargaining power to make the LOI less of an adhesion contract by bargaining for more favorable terms. By signing the LOI, the student commits to one school, giving up the opportunity to be recruited by other programs. In consideration for this commitment, the school agrees to give the student a scholarship, which will not be revoked unless the athlete is not admitted to the school. The student is bound to this contract. If the student decides to transfer to another school after signing a LOI, they will be forced to sit out of athletics for one year.  

Facially, this contract seems reasonably fair. After all, schools spend a lot of money recruiting athletes and it makes sense for schools to seek contractual commitments from their athletes. The agreement seems to have consideration because students agree to play for a school, and in return, the school agrees to extend a scholarship. Furthermore, students are not required to sign a LOI, but signing one is a way for both parties to make legal commitments to each other.  

However, the problem with the LOI, and main reason that I find them unconscionable is that the school has an escape clause. If the admissions committee of a school “rejects” an athlete, then the school is off the hook on its contractual obligation to commit to the athlete and provide a scholarship. So, for example, if a coach recruits a more desirable player than the one he has already committed to with a LOI, he can potentially simply not support the athlete with the school’s admissions committee, and when the student is rejected, the school has a legal way of backing out of their commitment to the student. This loophole puts the school in a better position than the student – and makes the consideration that the school gives the student in the LOI illusory. While the student is promising to attend a certain school, the school hasn’t really promised the student anything.  

I think that it is beneficial for student athletes and schools to make contractual commitments to one another, however the LOI because it is unconscionable as it currently stands does not reflect a mutual commitment. The contractual commitment between the parties should have weight. The student should not be able to walk away from an institution as easily as coaches are able to walk away from their coaching contracts (see Richard Karcher’s article The Coaching Carousel in Big-Time Intercollegiate Athletics), on the other hand the agreement should not be so heavily weighted in favor of the institution. 

Martine Trinka is a second-year law student at Quinnipiac University School of Law, concentrating in tax law.  She can be contacted at martine.trinka@quinnipiac.edu. 

 
 

  

 

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  1. […] of four Quinnipiac School of Law Students taking my Sports Law course, Davidson G. Lucas, Martine Trinka, Leo J. White and Dan Mokrycki.  Three of the four students came down on the side most commonly […]

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