NCAA Recruiting: National Letter of Intent vs. the Verbal Commitment

In NCAA recruiting, your commitment to enroll in a particular school and play hockey can come from signing a National Letter of Intent or through a verbal commitment...or both.

National Letter of Intent (NLI):

The NLI is a binding agreement between the prospective student-athlete and the school. By signing a National Letter of Intent you are agreeing to attend a school full-time for one academic year. In turn, the school agrees to provide athletics financial aid for one academic year.

Since you are agreeing to attend the school, it is putting the academic interests of the prospective student-athlete first. If there is a coaching change the prospect is still bound by the NLI. So, in NCAA recruiting, you are committing to the school, not the coach when signing a NLI. However, you can request a release from the agreement, but it is at the full discretion of the school.

Once you have signed the NLI, all recruitment efforts from other schools are banned as you are committed to the school you signed with. The NLI is a way to protect the athlete and the school.

The early signing period is in November and the regular signing period is from April to August. Check out our College Hockey Recruiting Calendar for important dates.

The NLI is only pertinent to Division 1 and 2 sports. To fully commit to a Division 3 school you must pay your initial deposit to the school.

Verbal Commitment:

For a variety of reasons, NCAA hockey programs have moved toward a 'verbal agreement' process. One such reason is so teams can commit to players earlier than the NLI signing dates of the player's Grade 12 / Senior year of high school. Due to the Major Junior Hockey draft, there is pressure for college hockey teams to declare their intentions to prospective hockey players before they make a decision to play Major Junior and lose their NCAA eligibility.

For the most part, verbal agreements work like the NLI, without the written, binding contract. As such, you should be careful when offering a verbal commitment with a school. However, it is bad business for teams to go back on verbal agreements with players. The NCAA hockey coaches have a gentleman's agreement to honor verbal commitments and stop recruiting players who have verbally agreed to go to another school. Again, this is a verbal agreement and lacks any enforcement.

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