In local newspapers in the United States, every April you can find news stories about talented high school athletes who are on their way to colleges with athletic scholarships. The newspaper will inevitably show a picture of the student with a pen in his or her hand, ready to sign. The paper that they are signing is the Letter of Intent.
What is the Letter of Intent?
A Letter of Intent is a legally-binding contract which says that you will attend that college for a minimum of 1 academic year in exchange for an athletic scholarship. Once you sign a LOI, the recruiting process is over. No other college is allowed to recruit you. You can change your mind and go to a different college, but there are penalties for this.
Do NOT sign a Letter of Intent until you are certain that you want to go to that college and are satisfied with the scholarship offer.
What Does the Letter of Intent Promise?
The LOI says how much scholarship money you will receive in exchange for attending the college for 1 academic year (not one season). The Letter of Intent does NOT promise:
- That you will get a spot on the team or compete
- That your scholarship will be renewed the next year
Note that Letters of Intent are between the student and the college, not the coach. You could sign a LOI only to learn that the coach is going to a new college the next year. Even if the coach leaves, you are still bound to the college.
Do You Have to Sign a Letter of Intent?
Letters of Intent are voluntary and you don’t need to sign one to get a scholarship or play sports. However, some coaches can be very pushy about getting you to sign a LOI. They want to make sure that you will play for their team and not go to another college when you get a better offer.
Remember that the LOI is supposed to protect you too. Coaches use the Letter of Intent to ensure that they’ve got all of the scholarship spots on their team filled. If you are a mid-level player and don’t sign a LOI right away, then the coach might just give the scholarship to another player who is ready to sign. Only the very best players choose not to sign.
- You do not need to sign a Letter of Intent if you are playing college sports but not on an athletic scholarship.
- LOI are only signed the first year. You do not have to sign one each year.
- Letters of Intent are for NCAA D1 and D2 only. You won’t sign a LOI with a NAIA or NJCAA college.
A Coach Promised Me a Scholarship. Do I Still Have to Sign the Letter of Intent?
Note that it is very common for student athletes to get scholarship promises from coaches, even in your sophomore or early in your junior year. A coach may also ask for a verbal commitment from you that you will attend the college. However, these promises don’t legally mean anything. A coach could change his or her mind. For example, if you were to become injured or your athletic performance declines for some other reason, the scholarship offer would go off the table. Likewise, you are also free to change your mind. You can promise to play for one college and then change your mind and go to another college. A scholarship offer only becomes a sure thing once you sign a Letter of Intent.
What Happens If I Change My Mind after Signing the Letter of Intent?
A LOI is a legal contract which says you will attend the college in question. If you change your mind and decide to go to a different college, you will lose your NCAA athletic eligibility to compete for 1 academic year.
If you break a LOI by going to another college, you can still play at that college. You can even still get scholarship money. However, you will not be allowed to compete for 1 year. Since most colleges won’t give you scholarship money if you aren’t playing, breaking a Letter of Intent usually means you won’t be getting a scholarship from any college. Only after 1 year is up will you be able to compete again.
Can I Get Out of the Letter of Intent?
If you sign a LOI and then change your mind, it is possible to appeal it and ask for a release. After all, colleges don’t want student athletes who don’t really want to be there. In most cases, the NCAA does grant the release. However, don’t count on this happening. Make sure you are satisfied with the scholarship offer and really want to go to the college before you sign!
Letter of Intent Signing Periods
There are specific periods when perspective student athletes are allowed to sign a LOI. There is an early signing period as well as a final signing period. The dates change slightly each year, so you will have to check with the NLI website to see when they are. For most sports, the early signing period is the November in the year before you’d start college, and the regular signing period starts in April of the year you’d start college.