I recently read about an Ohio State football recruit who signed a National Letter of Intent (NLI) with Ohio State, but asked for, and was granted, his release. Other players who orally committed to Ohio State have also changed their minds. None of this comes as a surprise considering the NCAA investigation concerning allegations of improper benefits during Jim Tressel’s tenure as head coach. However, these stories serve as a reminder about a clause in the NLI that could restrict the ability of Ohio State recruits to change course and attend another school.
Coaching Changes. I understand I have signed this NLI with the institution and not for a particular sport or coach. If a coach leaves the institution or the sports program (e.g., not retained, resigns), I remain bound by the provisions of this NLI. I understand it is not uncommon for a coach to leave his or her coaching position.
The rationale for this rule is that student-athletes should choose a university, not a coach. Of course, this is a practical fiction. How many times have we heard football players, including Terrelle Pryor, refer to their head coach as a father figure? And how many times has a player transferred because his skills do not fit a new coach’s system (i.e. Ryan Mallett)?
There has been no indication that Ohio State will refuse to release its recruits from their NLIs. But this shouldn’t even be an issue. Why should a recruit be required to seek permission to change his commitment to Ohio State? The program, without Jim Tressel and facing an NCAA investigation, is not the same program to which the recruits committed. There is uncertainty surrounding Luke Fickell and whether he will be the long-term coach at the university. NCAA sanctions are likely. So why does Ohio State still have the ability to control these recruits?
The question of whether the NLI has a place in collegiate athletics can be left for another day. But the clause regarding coaching changes should be eliminated.
For more on the NLI, see the following posts: