Verbal Commitment vs. National Letter of Intent: Know the Difference

Verbal Commitment vs. National Letter of Intent: All Athletes Should Know the Difference

This post was written by Chelsea L. Dixon, M.S., M.A.T. It was originally post on and is republished here with permission.

High school sports are exciting, but the stakes are even higher when college recruiters enter the equation.

How can you tell whether you’re seriously in the running for a spot on a college team? Two terms that can cause confusion for high schoolers looking to participate in college athletics are verbal commitment and National Letter of Intent. Here’s an overview of what you need to know:

Verbal Commitment

The verbal commitment has become a trend in recent years. It refers to a non-binding agreement that can be made at any time by a college-bound student-athlete before signing a National Letter of Intent. In theory, this oral agreement seems pretty simple: A prospective student-athlete verbally agrees to attend an institution and play on a given sports team, and a coach orally agrees to give the student-athlete a scholarship and save a spot on the sports team’s roster.

In reality, however, the verbal commitment is not as cut-and-dry as it may seem.

A verbal commitment can be made at any time and without any restrictions. This means that an eighth-grader can make a verbal commitment.

Making a verbal commitment can eliminate some of the anxiety associated with choosing a college or university to attend.

A high school freshman may feel increased pressure to perform given a college coach’s expectations.

Also, a student-athlete’s interests may change after having made a verbal commitment. As students get older, their interests may change. It’s not uncommon for students to change their minds about colleges. What may have interested a student in tenth grade could very well be different by twelfth grade.

Non-Binding Agreement
One key characteristic of a verbal commitment – and it can be both an advantage and a disadvantage – is that it is non-binding. Both parties (the prospective student-athlete as well as the college coach) may have a change of heart at any time. There have been times when a student-athlete has given a verbal commitment to University A, but when it came down to signing a National Letter of Intent and making the promise official, the student-athlete committed to and signed with University B. Conversely, there have been times when a coach has made a verbal commitment to a student-athlete, but then offered a National Letter of Intent to someone else.

Both are unfortunate instances, but they do happen. Although a college-bound student-athlete may announce a verbal commitment, it isn’t binding until a National Letter of Intent has been signed accompanied by an offer of an athletic scholarship. Up to that point, neither the student-athlete nor the college or university is bound by the verbal commitment.

National Letter of Intent

The National Letter of Intent is administered by the NCAA for Division I and II institutions. It is a voluntary program. By signing an NLI, a college-bound student-athlete must attend the participating college or university for at least one academic year, and that college or university must provide athletic financial aid for that same year. Note that community colleges in the National Junior College Athletic Association, or NJCAA, administer their own Letters of Intent separate from those issued by the NCAA.

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