What is the Early Signing Period?
The early signing period is a time for student-athletes to officially commit to a college and sign their National Letter of Intent (NLI). Each college sport, excluding men’s and women’s soccer and men’s water polo, has an early signing period. During this time many top high school and junior college student-athletes sign with the top academic and athletic schools in the country. It can also be a good time for athletes who are comfortable with their scholarship offer(s) and confident in their decision to officially sign.
For Division I football, the early signing period is typically in mid-December with this year’s running from December 15 through December 17. According to National Letter of Intent, 88% of Division I FBS and 65% of Division I FCS football prospective student-athletes signed early in 2020. For Division I basketball, this year’s early signing period was November 10 through November 17. All other Division I and II sports began their signing period on November 10.
For Division III, prospective student-athletes do not sign a NLI since schools only offer academic scholarships. However, they can sign a non-binding celebratory form showing their commitment to the school. Division III athletes can sign this at any point after they are accepted. For NAIA, there is no NLI, and student-athletes can commit at any point with no official signing day or deadline. Each college acts on its own regarding scholarships.
Early Signing Period for football
For football, this is the fifth year of the early signing period, and it could potentially be the last. Since a lot of coaching changes happen after the new year, the early signing period in December could be eliminated. It forces schools to fire and hire coaches earlier in the season so they can salvage their recruiting class. If a student-athlete was recruited by a coach who is no longer part of the program, it could affect their decision. The connection between a student-athlete and a coach is important. It could be difficult to build a connection with the new coach. It is important to know how a recruit will fit into the coach’s plans for the team and vice versa.
What is a National Letter of Intent?
The National Letter of Intent (NLI) is a legal, binding contract. It should include an athletic aid agreement or an athletic scholarship. It should list the amount of athletic aid that the athlete will receive in their first year. Both the student and the school signs the NLI. By signing, the athlete has committed to one year at the university. The university is promising to provide an athletic scholarship for that year. If a student-athlete wants to get released from the NLI agreement at a Division I or II school, they must ask for permission through an online release process on the NCAA’s website.
Other divisions do not require an appeal because they are not officially legal, binding agreements.
The NLI becomes void if the student-athlete does not get admitted into the university. It will also be void if the athlete fails to meet eligibility requirements for athletic aid, or if the institution cuts the athlete’s sport.
Prior to these early signing periods, there are dead periods where coaches cannot have any in-person contact with student-athletes. This year’s dead period for Division I football is December 13 through December 15 prior to the opening of the early signing period.
What does the early signing period mean for STudent-athletes?
For student-athletes, signing during the early period means wrapping up their recruitment process earlier, allowing them to focus on the rest of their senior year in high school. By signing sooner rather than later, athletes are securing their scholarship money. Signing early can also secure an athlete’s starting position on the team, but that isn’t always the case.
While many athletes take advantage of the early signing period, many others receive scholarship offers after this period. Some may need more time to weigh their options or they might be waiting to hear from a school of interest. It is important to remember that the recruiting process looks different for every student-athlete.
How does the early signing period impact the regular signing period?
Even though the early signing period only applies to Division I, it affects all other divisions and their recruiting process. Typically, Division II, Division III and NAIA schools wait for Division I schools to fill their recruiting classes before starting to fill their own. However, with Division I now completing their signings earlier, the other divisions can look to do the same. Now these divisions will be busy completing their classes over the holidays instead of in mid to late spring.
The regular signing period for Division I and II football starts with National Signing Day in February and ends in April for Division I and August for Division II.
Early signing periods mark the beginning of teams filling their rosters and offering scholarships. If you haven’t signed during this period, there is still time to continue to reach out to coaches and show them what you can bring to their team.