What is a National Letter of Intent (NLI)?

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The National Letter of Intent (NLI) is a legally binding contract for student-athletes to partake in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) colleges and universities in the United States of America.

The NLI is normally the final stage of a recruiting process. They are sent to students assessed by the coaches for many months or years. The NLI is still a voluntary program and the students can sign with their consent if they agree to abide by the contract.


The program was first started in 1964 with 7 conferences and 8 institutions. There are 2 Divisions of the participating institutions now, Division I and Division II, and they are over 600 in total.

For the various types of sports, there are different dates assigned, referred to as “Signing days”.

For institutions that cannot use the NLI, there is a third division, Division III.

The NLIs have to be faxed by the student to the university after recruitment. They fax it on National Signing day but some choose to send it by post as well. They are sent to the university’s athletic department.


The terms and conditions in the NLI should be considered carefully before signing. The below sections break down each of the provisions in the NLI in detail.

·         Entering 4-year university course

The athlete must meet this provision by enrolling in a 4-year university program where they will enter for the first academic year. However, an exception is in the case of junior college transfers in football and 4-2-4 transfers.

·         Scholarship/Financial aid

The NLI supplements a financial aid/scholarship for the athlete. However, any athlete not planning on receiving financial aid can opt-out of signing the NLI.

·         Letter Met

This provision describes how an athlete can meet the requirements of the NLI. They have to attend their university for 1 whole year. Junior college students need to attend the 4-year university for at least 1 entire year. Otherwise, they need to graduate from a 2-year college.

·         Penalty

In case an athlete does not attend the university for 1 whole year, after signing the NLI, there is a penalty. They will not be able to transfer to another school and play for 1 year. Receiving the scholarship may also be out of the question mostly, as the athlete is unable to play. The student will also not be eligible for all sports for the year.

·         Early Signing Period Penalty

This provision is not applicable to all student-athletes. Football players recruited in other sports find this applicable. If the student wants to receive a football scholarship, they cannot sign an NLI for another sport. If the student signs for another sport in the early signing period of that sport, the student will be ineligible to play football for the first year.

·         Release clause

If a student has signed an NLI and wishes to break the contract, they make a release request. It is asking for a 4-4 transfer as an appeal to sign with another university.

·         Null and Void

The NLI is signed before sending it to the university, and there is a small chance that the signed NLI may be unacceptable for the University. The reasons for this could be:

  1. No admission- There could be a case where the student meets the eligibility requirement of NCAA, but this does not ensure admission. If the student isn’t accepted by the university they will not receive the scholarship as well.
  2. NCAA-ineligible- The NLI signing is before the final eligibility status of the NCAA is received by the student. A non-qualifier status is then assigned to ineligible students and they won’t receive the athletic scholarship from the university as well.
  3. Absence- After the NLI signing, if the student fails to attend any school for 1 year, they have to file for a release. After the release, the student can attend another university. The school’s athletic department facilitates this process.
  4. Military- If the student joins the military or a similar church mission for a duration of 12 months, there is no penalty even if the NLI is already signed.
  5. Discontinuity- If the university of the student cuts the sports department of the sport that the student signed the NLI for, they can sign with another school without penalty.
  6. Rules violation- After the student signs the NLI if they discover that there were recruiting rules violations the student has 2 choices. They can continue the NLI or get a release after being reinstated.

·         Ban

There is a recruiting ban after the athlete signs the NLI. This means no other coach and/or university can continue to recruit the student once the NLI has been signed. This marks an end to the recruiting process for the student.

·         Deadline

Once the student receives the NLI, a 14-day period is available for the student to sign it. However, if an NLI arrives with less than 14 days remaining in the signing period, then only those many days are available for the student to sign the NLI.

·         Statute of Limitations

This is the expiry of the contract. If the student does nothing then after 4 years the contract will be void. To get the NLI void before the 4-year period, appeals, releases, and penalties can be made by the student.

·         Coach

The student is signing the NLI with the university. If in any event, the coach leaves, the student will have to attend the university for at least 1 year. In these cases, release appeals are not usually granted. A student should ensure their desire is to play for a certain university and not the coach as such situations may arise.

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·         Coaching contact

The coach of the university has a prohibition ban at the time a student is signing for a particular university, and they won’t be present. The coach cannot deliver the NLI to the student by hand. It can only be done via fax, email, or courier.

·         Final Page

This is not a provision of the NLI but rather a necessary inclusion. The final page’s top half of the NLI is complete when sent by the university to the student. If that information is incorrect or incomplete, the NLI is not valid. The student will undergo the process again in such scenarios.

The recruit (student) is responsible for completing and signing the bottom half of the page. Recruits under the age of 21 will need the signature of their parent/legal guardian as well on the NLI.

More information about NLI:

  • National Signing Day- Most NCAA sports have 2 signing days and all sports have at least 1. The dates are on their official websites for that particular academic year.
  • Walk-on – A walk-on student does not sign an NLI. Similarly, a Recruited Walk-on student won’t sign an NLI and financial aid agreement with the university.
  • A mistake in the form- Parents and students worry about losing the scholarship due to minor mistakes. The key is to communicate with the school offering the NLI as well as the student’s coach. However, the student should take active interest while filling it out and not rely entirely on their high school.
  • Athletic aid- The NLI of the student is always accompanied by the Aid agreement and information about the scholarship.
  • Scholarship- The NLI by itself is not a scholarship agreement with the university. The scholarship will come separately as an aid agreement.
  • Evaluation- To receive the NLI, a student has to start contacting coaches and train early on. The sooner the evaluation starts, the better the chances of the student receiving the NLI.
  • Academic requirements- according to new rules and regulations, the academic requirements of the NCAA are an important consideration. A student could be eligible to receive the NLI but may not meet these requirements. These requirements and the student’s eligibility could affect the NLI even after receiving it.
  • NCAA ID- To sign the NLI, the student has to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center. Once they do so, they receive the NCAA ID. Without the ID, the NLI is considered invalid.
  • Academic year in residence- After singing an NLI, if a student attends the university for less than a year/does not attend then this comes into play. The student has to serve 1 year in residence at the next institution they get an NLI for.
  • Junior college- If the athlete is a mid-year college transfer receiving an NLI, but fails to graduate then the NLI is null and void.
  • NAIA school- The student could have already signed with an NAIA school but would still be eligible for NLI.
  • Oral commitments- If an NLI is not yet signed, oral commitments are nonbinding for recruits and coaches alike.

Professor J. William Davis was at Texas Technological College teaching Government and Faculty Athletics Representative when he created the National Letter of Intent(NLI) in 1964. Since then, due to the large number of institutions partaking in the NLI program, thousands of students have received scholarships and aids to fulfill their dreams of an athletic career.

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