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The Tulane Law School Sports Law program provides students with the background necessary to understand and handle problems unique to the sports industry.

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'Notional' Letter of Intent: College Football Offers More Than It Can Deliver, Part 3

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"Notional" Letter of Intent: College Football Offers More Than It Can Deliver, Part 3

Written By: Justin N. Fielkow

This is the third of a three-part series analyzing the National Letter of Intent system and the concept of oversigning in major college football. In Part One, I provided a general introduction to the history and rules governing the National Letter of Intent and the doctrine of oversigning in college football. Part Two analyzed the legal implications of and potential remedies for oversigning, including a promissory estoppel cause of action and breach of contract claim. Finally, this post will scrutinze the ethics and morality of oversigning as it relates to the current world of big-money college football and the impact the practice has on student-athletes.

Ethics of Oversigning

Big-money college football is a broken system. The application of the rules and regulations passed by the NCAA are rife with hypocrisy. Institutions and their coaches clearly operate under different standards than those expected of the student-athletes who fuel the behemoth that is college football. In 2010, the NCAA suspended University of Georgia receiver A.J. Green four games for selling his jersey.1  While Georgia's athletic department is allowed to sell that same jersey to profit the athletic department, Green was ruled ineligible. Meanwhile, 25 different players were arrested and subsequently punished to varying degrees in the short time that Urban Meyer was head coach at the University of Florida.2  In many circumstances, an institution would deem their program wildly out of control, with the blame falling directly on the man in charge, the head coach. However, with Meyer winning multiple championships during his tenure, neither the university nor the NCAA stepped in and issued so much as a public reprimand.

Further evidence of this dual standard is the ability of coaches and players to switch schools. While coaches can move about with relative ease, players are largely immobile once they sign an NLI.  Clearly, players and institutions, along with their head coaches, operate under different standards. The NCAA's "paper tiger" regulations regarding oversigning in college football reflect that imbalance.

Said Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt in 2009, "[t]here's no rule that says we can't sign 80 [recruits]. All I know is we have to have 25 ready to go in August."3  While Nutt obviously meant his statement as a joke, he is not too far off point. Schools often sign more players than they have available roster spots under the assumption that not all of the signees will qualify for the financial aid award. While in some instances this ends up being the case, often schools are left with a numbers crunch when more than 25 of the up to 28 NLI-signees qualify.5  Thus, lesser regarded signees are told there is no room for them, regardless of when they verbally committed or signed their National Letter of Intent (NLI). For example, Cameron Fordham turned down other scholarship offers, verbally committing to play for Les Miles at LSU.6  The summer before enrolling, Cameron was informed there would not be a scholarship available to him. Lacking other opportunities on such short notice, he was forced to accept an offer to walk-on at LSU and pay his own way through school.7  This situation is not always an option for many prospective student-athletes, yet coaches and universities continuously gamble with the lives of these young men by playing a recruiting guessing game.

Continue reading here... 

'Notional' Letter of Intent: College Football Offers More Than It Can Deliver, Part 2

 Permanent link

"Notional" Letter of Intent: College Football Offers More Than It Can Deliver, Part 2

By: Justin Fielkow

This is the second of a three-part series that will analyze the National Letter of Intent system and the concept of oversigning in major college football. In Part One, I provided a general introduction to the history and rules governing the National Letter of Intent and the doctrine of oversigning in college football. This post will further analyze the legal implications of and potential remedies for oversigning, including a promissory estoppel cause of action and breach of contract claim. Finally, Part Three will put the ethics and morality of the practice of oversigning, as it relates to the current world of big-money of college football, on figurative trial.

Enforcing Verbal Commitments Prior to Signing an NLI

As discussed in Part One, oversigning is defined as "the act of accepting more letters of intent on National Signing Day than you [an institution] have room for under the 85 scholarship limit." As a result, the unlikely-to-contribute players at the bottom of an incoming class are asked to "grayshirt," dutifully delaying their enrollment (or paying their way for a semester), until there is room for them in the next class, regardless of what a coach promised them during recruitment, or the fact that they signed an NLI. Additionally, every year thousands of high school seniors find themselves scrambling for scholarships after coaches rescind non-binding scholarship offers because they found more talented players and are forced to comply with the NCAA's signing limits.

Continue reading here... 

'Notional' Letter of Intent: College Football Offers More Than It Can Deliver, Part 1

 Permanent link

"Notional" Letter of Intent: College Football Offers More Than It Can Deliver, Part 1

By: Justin N. Fielkow

This week, young men across the country signed their National Letters of Intent, a momentous occasion and tremendous achievement in their lives. Unfortunately, for some, both the process and the conclusion will not be what they envisioned. This is the first of a three-part series that will analyze the National Letter of Intent system and the concept of oversigning in major college football. This post will provide a general introduction to the history and rules governing the National Letter of Intent and the doctrine of oversigning in college football. Part Two will then analyze the legality and potential remedies of oversigning, including a promissory estoppel cause of action and breach of contract claim. Finally, Part Three will put the ethics and morality of the practice of oversigning, as it relates to the current world of big-money college football, on figurative trial.

Introduction to Oversigning: How It Works and How It Fails

With nothing more than a wish and a prayer that a university will honor its scholarship offer to a prospective student-athlete, countless young men, such as Elliot Porter, have their verbal commitments vanish into thin air due to the unsavory practice of oversigning.1  Elliot Porter received a scholarship offer to play football at Louisiana State University in the summer of 2009. In July, Porter was one of the first verbal commitments to LSU's 2010 recruiting class.2  In February 2010, Porter signed a National Letter of Intent (NLI) with LSU, qualified academically, enrolled early, reported to summer school in June 2010, and started taking classes.3  Yet, after misjudging how many of his academically shaky signees would qualify and reaching the maximum 25-new-player scholarship limit, head coach Les Miles informed Porter that there was no room for him on scholarship at LSU.4  Porter was granted a release from his Letter of Intent and instead accepted a scholarship at the University of Kentucky.5  Porter disliked Kentucky and returned to LSU, where he is now a walk-on paying his own way for two years before he can finally get the football scholarship LSU promised him as a high school senior.6

Porter's situation is not unique. Often, the unlikely-to-contribute players at the bottom of an incoming class are asked to "grayshirt," dutifully delaying their enrollment (or paying their way for a semester), until there is room for them in the next class, regardless of what a coach promised them during their recruitment or the fact that they signed an NLI. Additionally, every year "thousands" of high school seniors find themselves scrambling for scholarships after coaches simply rescind non-binding scholarship offers because they found more talented players and are forced to comply with the NCAA's signing limits.7

Continue reading here... 


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