This past February, another National Signing Day came and went in college football. Dubbed by Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples as “the worst contract in American sports”, the NLI is nevertheless alive and well. However, a 4-star recruit from Georgia reminded us that the NLI is completely voluntary and is not a prerequisite to an athletic scholarship.
On signing day, Roquan Smith chose UCLA, but declined to sign the NLI*. After the departure of UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, Smith decided to attend the University of Georgia, although he once again passed on signing the NLI.
What are my thoughts on the strategy?
First, this strategy is not unprecedented as some have reported (both DeMarcus Cousins and Seantrel Henderson initially resisted signing NLIs coming out of high school). In general, this strategy is perfect for an upper echelon player. On the other hand, a lesser player takes the risk that scholarship slots will fill up. For a player whose slot is assured, there is no need to sign the NLI, as the financial aid agreement will secure the player’s scholarship.
Had Smith signed the NLI, he would have needed permission from UCLA to withdraw his commitment to UCLA and attend Georgia. Without UCLA’s permission, he would have been subject to losing a year of eligibility, barring a successful appeal. Smith, however, avoided such a situation by passing on the NLI.
*In the mlive.com article linked to above, Smith seems mistaken about one aspect of the NLI – it only binds the student for one year. After that first year, NCAA and conference transfer rules apply and whether he signed a NLI is irrelevant.
For more on the NLI, check out my previous posts – https://ctsportslaw.com/2013/06/07/friday-sports-briefs-national-letter-of-intent-edition/