"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.4 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.
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