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What is the National Letter of Intent?

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For football junkies that are more in tune with the College Football ranks, February 1st can be considered a holiday.

February 1st is the first day that high school senior athletes that have been recruited by Division I and II colleges and universities can sign a National Letter of Intent. The one thing to note is that it is only for football, soccer and men’s water polo. Compared to soccer and water polo, the window is much smaller for football, where the final day to sign is April 1st. The other two sports have until August 1st.

So, what about basketball, hockey, gymnastics and other sports offered by the DI and DII schools? Their signing day is April 12th this year. One similarity is that basketball’s window is also very small, but just for the DI level. Their deadline is May 17th. DII and the other sports have an August 1st deadline.

The National Letter of Intent
The National Letter of Intent (NLI) itself is an agreement between the institution and the possible student-athlete for financial aid and education. There are several standards put in place by the institution, the conference the institution is a part of, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Several of those standards involved academics at the high school level.

You may read or see stories where a student-athlete has either a full-ride scholarship, or even a half-ride scholarship. The NLI has language that is filled out by the institution and given to the prospective student-athlete as an offer. Usually, the communication between the coach at the institution, the athletic department and the institution’s administration helps create the final language before being sent. The minimum amount of athletic financial aid offered by the institution is just one year of school. The student, in return, has to attend the institution for one school year, full time. If a student-athlete under an NLI decides to transfer to another university, they can still attend the next university or college, but will lose a year of eligibility in athletics.

If the student-athlete accepts the offer from the institution, then they can sign the NLI along with a signature from a parent or guardian. Unless the student-athlete is 21 or older they can sign it on their own accord. The age limit is usually for those that once attended a four-year institution, transferred to a two-college and returned to a four-year institution (also known as junior college transfers). Also, once the NLI is signed, the recruiting process is over and other schools are not allowed to contact the student for at least one year. The institution is allowed to create a multiyear agreement.

The Difference Between DI and DII Letters
Michigan is chock full of Division II schools – Grand Valley, Hillsdale, Ferris State, Northwood, Saginaw Valley, Davenport (next year), Wayne State, Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech. They are smaller schools compared to DI when it comes to enrollment, but still run predominately like a DI athletic program.

The biggest difference for the NLI for Division II schools is that they are only allowed to offer one year of athletic financial aid. Unlike DI institutions where athletics can hold it’s own budget, DII athletic programs have their budget through the school.

Why Not Division III?
There are several Division III schools in our area – Albion, Kalamazoo, and Olivet colleges – that also have several athletic opportunities. Many of the Division III schools have been fighting to also have a Letter of Intent for their own. In 2015, the NCAA announced that Division III schools will have a Celebratory Signing Form that student-athletes can sign. The difference is that the CSF is a non-binding agreement between the institution and the student-athlete.

The student-athletes at the DIII level are eligible to attend mainly on academics. The institutions are not allowed to offer financial aid through athletics in DIII. It’s the reason why Kalamazoo College was placed on postseason probation last year. According to the NCAA, the athletes play for the love of the game, but still want the experience of playing and practicing at a competitive level.

What is the NAIA?
The NAIA is the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, which is very similar to the NCAA, but supports much smaller schools that want to provide high competition. There are also a number of NAIA schools in our area, Siena Heights University and Aquinas College (Davenport University will be moving to Division II next year). According the NAIA, the prospective student-athlete reaches out to these institutions in an attempt to attend. The institution then can communicate with the student-athlete to create an agreement.

Another one of the major differences with the NAIA’s Letter of Intent is that the student-athlete can still contact other schools even after they sign. The NCAA’s NLI does not allow this.

National Signing Day
With that said, National Signing Day takes place tomorrow for the Division I and II schools, along with several NAIA commits. I will be at Western Michigan University for the first recruiting class of new head coach Tim Lester. I’ll also keep you updated on where everybody is headed!

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