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

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

running trackAdvantages
A prospective student-athlete is not required to sign an NLI in order to join an athletics program at a given college or university. When offered an NLI, however, many choose to sign–they want to ensure that they’ll have a spot on the roster and receive an athletic scholarship. Even if a college-bound student-athlete makes a verbal commitment to an institution, that promise isn’t binding until an NLI is signed.

Student-athletes can only sign a NLI during specific periods; otherwise, the NLI will be invalid.

Once you sign an NLI, you are officially off the market and can no longer be recruited by any other college or university.

Signing an NLI does not guarantee that you will be a starter on a given team, nor that you will even play. The only thing that is certain–provided you have met the requirements set forth by the NCAA Eligibility Center and have been admitted to the institution with which you’re signing–is that you will receive an athletic scholarship.

If you are not granted admission to the institution you signed your NLI with, the NLI becomes invalid. You will then be permitted to attend a new institution without incurring any of the penalties associated with reneging on an NLI.

If you are admitted to the institution for which you signed a National Letter of Intent and you either don’t fulfill the NLI requirements or decide to attend a different institution, you will be penalized. Generally, you lose a year of eligibility, and if you go to a college or university that is an NLI member institution, you will need to attend that institution for a full year before you are eligible to compete in any sports.

If, however, you ask for and receive a release from your original NLI institution, your penalty may be reduced or eliminated. An institution is not obligated to give you a release. If an institution does not grant you a release, however, you may appeal to the NLI appeals committee.

Binding Agreement
A student-athlete signs a National Letter of Intent with a college or university and not with a specific coach. This is important to know–even if the coach who recruited you ends up leaving the school before you arrive on campus, you are still bound by the NLI to attend that school.

While some institutions will release student-athletes from their NLI under certain circumstances, this is not the norm.

Even if you make a verbal commitment or sign an NLI with a college or university, there is no guarantee that you will be attending that specific institution or that you will be playing a sport there. A school’s admissions department has the final say about whether or not you’ll be admitted.

Chelsea L. Dixon, M.S., M.A.T., is founder and CEO of GamePhox Unlimited L.L.C.  A motivational speaker who has lectured at various high schools, colleges, professional youth sports foundations, and youth groups, Dixon is the author of Bridging the Gap: A Simple Guide to College. She earned a B.A. in sociology from Boston College, an M.A.T. in secondary education from Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey), and an M.S. in sports management from the University of Massachusetts — Amherst. Learn more about her at or