A Simple Guide to Understanding NCAA Commitments

College student smiling on campus

While helping student-athletes and their families get ready for college, our recruiting advisers are often asked to clarify what’s involved in committing to a college athletics program. There are lots of terms floating around and it can be challenging to decipher what everything means. To help you navigate this potentially confusing process, we’ve compiled a list of answers to questions most commonly asked by parents about college commitment.

What is a verbal commitment?

The NCAA defines a verbal commitment as the way a player signifies their commitment to a school. It comes before the player can or does sign the National Letter of Intent to their chosen school. Though it is called a “commitment” it is not binding and is considered unofficial. Players can change their mind and attend a different school, despite having made this verbal commitment. Conversely, coaches can rescind any verbal offers made as well.

What is the difference between a verbal and written commitment?

While a verbal commitment is able to be broken, a written commitment is binding. In the NCAA, a written commitment is known as a National Letter of Intent (NLI). This is an official, contractual commitment between a player and a school. The player agrees to attend as a full-time student for at least one academic year, while the school agrees to provide one year of some level of financial aid. Once a player has signed an NLI, other institutions are no longer able to recruit them. Only select Division I and Division II schools are members of the National Letter of Intent program; Division III schools do not participate.

I’ve signed a National Letter of Intent but I’ve changed my mind. Help!

If you sign a National Letter of Intent but decide you want to go elsewhere, you can do so...with consequences. It’s important to know that you can only sign one NLI in a given academic year, so you won’t be able to officially commit to another program. You can go to another institution, but you will have to give up one athletic season of eligibility. In other words, you’ll attend as a full-time student but won’t be able to compete until your second year there. This penalty can be avoided if the school to which you originally committed grants you a complete release. This type of release allows you to be recruited by other NLI institutions and to enroll there without penalty. In contrast, a release from only the recruiting ban allows players to be recruited by other schools, but they would still be required to sit out athletics for a year.

I’ve signed a National Letter of Intent but the coach just left. Do I still have to honor my commitment?

Unfortunately, there is a tremendous amount of coaching turnover in the NCAA, which means that it is quite possible that the coach who recruited you will leave before you even enroll. The NLI, however, specifies that the written commitment is to a school – not an individual coach – so you will be held to your commitment. If you want to leave, you can apply for an official release. It is possible that the incoming coach will approve it, as it will open up spots for them to recruit their own players.

Should I sign a National Letter of Intent?

Determining whether to sign a National Letter of Intent is a personal decision for you and your family. Some athletes sign for the relief and comfort of knowing their recruiting journey is over and they have a definitive plan in place for the next phase of their athletic and academic careers. However, such an agreement can also be detrimentally limiting. Some articles argue that the NLI strips athletes of their bargaining power, as athletes can receive athletic money without signing such a commitment. That said, an NLI does not guarantee that the school will provide a scholarship. In a case where there is no money left, the school would notify the player and the NLI would be nullified.

There are multiple factors to consider when committing to a college and, while many of your decisions will be impacted by rules, the recruiting process should ultimately be guided by your family’s unique set of circumstances. When you’re tempted to look at friends, neighbors and teammates as examples of what to do, remember that what’s best for one family isn’t necessarily right for yours. Our advice to families on this journey is to stay informed, seek out objective advice, and focus on their college goals. If you follow that formula, you’ll do just fine.

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Chris Bart-Williams is the founder and owner of CBW Soccer Elite. After an extensive career in the English Premier League, Chris now uses his vast soccer knowledge to assist families throughout the college recruiting process and prepare players for the mental and physical challenges of collegiate soccer. You can reach Chris at

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