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Take The Power Back: Some Advice for Incoming Student-Athletes, Part I of ?


Rubie sez: This was originally a much larger piece, but then I learned that the advice I was going to provide in the second half of my post was potentially a violation of NCAA rules. And I don't want anybody getting caught in that quagmire at my direction. Thus: while I wait to learn if I can run Part II, let's get to Part I.

In the last week, the State of Wisconsin has served as the stage for two of the grosser displays of the all-too-typical treatment given to NCAA "student-athletes" and recruits. First, there was the Jarrod Uthoff Transfer-Gate saga, which served as the latest example of the NCAA's bizarrely paternalistic "we're concerned with the welfare and well-being of our student-athletes, unless of course those student-athletes are trying to look out for their welfare and well-being on their own" credo.

Then, on Friday, came Marquette's seemingly annual contribution to the mess: 2012-'13 recruit Aaron Durley, who'd signed a National Letter of Intent to play at MU this fall, was "released" from that letter of intent and won't be joining the team after all. Of course, if you've been paying attention, you know that, in all likelihood, Aaron's "release" is a release in name only: whether it was done explicitly, implicitly, or otherwise, Durley's scholarship got yanked, and he'll have to scramble to find somewhere else to play ball next season.

For an organization that purports to extol the virtues of fair play and sportsmanship, the NCAA serves as host to one of the more unbalanced playing fields in America: the one-sided relationship between its member schools (and the head coaches and athletic directors of those schools) and its players, who enjoy precious little power in relation to the universities for whom they make mountains of money.

For whatever reason, I've reached Network levels of disgust with this arrangement, and I want to do whatever I can to help the kids take the power back. So: let's set the crosshairs today on Durley's situation, and figure out what can be done about this letter of intent nonsense.

Getting into the finer points of the LOI, after the jump.

According to its website (yes, it has a website), the National Letter of Intent exists to provide a measure of security to a potential student-athlete, while (ideally) eliminating the distraction of recruiting:

By signing a National Letter of Intent, a prospective student-athlete agrees to attend the designated college or university for one academic year. Pursuant to the terms of the National Letter of Intent program, participating institutions agree to provide athletics financial aid to the student-athlete, provided he/she is admitted to the institution and is eligible for financial aid under NCAA rules. An important provision of the National Letter of Intent program is a recruiting prohibition applied after a prospective student-athlete signs a Letter of Intent. This prohibition requires participating institutions to cease recruitment of a prospective student-athlete once a National Letter of Intent is signed with another institution.

The working theory, then: by signing your LOI, you agree to attend School X for one year, and School X, for its part, agrees to give you a scholarship, and all those other coaches who've been sending you 14 text messages a day and leaving two voicemails every night for three months have to knock it off.

That's the working theory, anyway.

In practice, though, there's little -- if any -- benefit to a recruit signing a National Letter of Intent. The potential negative consequences, on the other hand, are huge, because of this language in the LOI:

I understand that if I do not attend the institution named in this document for one full academic year and I enroll in another institution participating in the NLI program, I may not compete in intercollegiate athletics until I have completed one full academic year in residence at the latter institution. Further, I understand I shall be charged with the loss of one season of intercollegiate athletics competition in all sports.

You break your end of the deal, then, and you lose a season (unless, of course, you get the school to release you from your letter of intent). And if the school doesn't hold up its end of the donkey? I'll wait while you peruse the penalties section of the NLI website to see what happens if the school doesn't honor the contract, as happened with Aaron Durley.




Couldn't find it, could you? I couldn't either. (Note: I suppose you could sue the school for breaching the contract, but if you get a scholarship somewhere else, you'd have a hard time proving damages.)

At this point, you're probably wondering why in the world anyone would agree to something like this, an arrangement where you commit to a school for a year while the school agrees to take you provided that somebody better doesn't come along and we don't have to balance our recruiting classes and assuming that one guy from that other school doesn't transfer, etc, etc, etc. And, if you're like me, you're probably figuring: well, you must HAVE to sign a LOI if you want to play ball in college. Right?

Nope: there's no obligation whatsoever:

The NLI is a voluntary program with regard to both institutions and student-athletes. No prospective student-athlete or parent is required to sign the National Letter of Intent, and no institution is required to join the program.

So, let's set out the basic agreement: the player, who isn't mandated to sign such an agreement in any way, shape, or form, is pledging himself to the school for one year at the risk of losing one season of competition, while the school makes a promise to strongly consider possibly maybe giving the player a scholarship for that same term.

Take Nancy Reagan's advice here, youngsters: when it comes to the National Letter of Intent: