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Today is the most important day in college football. Live webcasts will be fixated on fax machines as the best high school football recruits turn in their National Letters of Intent on this National Signing Day. So you'll see a run up of commitments and decommitments before the day is over.
But what does all of this mean? If a kid with an Auburn tattoo ultimately decides to go to Alabama, can this same kid decide next week that he wants to stay true to his tattoo?
The answer is "yes" and "no." Meaning that no one can physically force you to play football at any university. But if you decommit after signing a National Letter of Intent, you could face some penalties and other consequences.
What Is the National Letter of Intent (NLI)?
The NLI is a binding agreement between a prospective student-athlete and the college/university.
The student agrees to attend the school full-time for at least one academic year. In exchange, the school agrees to provide financial aid to that student for at least one year.
If the student changes his mind, he is free to leave the school. However, he can lose his financial aid and may be prohibited from playing the sport at another school for one season. That's why you often see transfers sitting out for a year after arriving at a new school.
Why Are So Many Athletes Decommitting?
Before and even after National Signing Day, you will hear about many star athletes decommitting and joining new schools. So what gives?
If you pay attention, you'll notice that many of these athletes only enter verbal commitments without signing a NLI. Verbal commitments are basically meaningless. While they may show that a student is strongly interested in one school, the student can (and frequently does) change his mind.