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What is a National Letter of Intent?

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Each February, the nation's top high school football players end their recruitment by signing a document called the National Letter of Intent. When the document is signed and faxed off of their college of choice, they secure their college football scholarship.

But what exactly is a National Letter of Intent? And what does it mean for the player who signs it, and the college who accepts it?

Simple: A National Letter of Intent is essentially an amateur sports contract—a contract that, at least in the short term, binds a player and college together.

Here are the basic facts behind the National Letter of Intent.

  • A student-athlete who signs a National Letter of Intent is obligated to attend their college of choice for one academic year.
  • In return, a college who accepts a player's National Letter of Intent is obligated to give the player a scholarship for one academic year, provided the player meets the conditions set forth in the NCAA rules.
  • Once a player signs an NLI with a particular college, no other college may continue recruiting that player. To do so would be a violation of NCAA rules.
So why such a formal process? Well, according to the NCAA, the National Letter of Intent program has "many advantages to both prospective student-athletes and participating educational institutions." The NCAA says signing a letter protects student-athletes from continued recruiting pressure, ensures that those players lock up their scholarship and, by "emphasizing a commitment to an educational institution" rather than individual coaches, helps athletes focus their attention on their "educational objectives."
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