Last week, Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis sparked up some conversation (albeit very little convo) about high school prospects signing letters of intent (LOI) with collegiate universities. I am sure that Will Leitch of Deadspin.com was not the only one out there wondering for a while why players give up their rights so early to sign these voluntary LOIs. It can’t be that simple, though, can it? Do highly sought high school players really unnecessarily give up their rights because of a voluntary system?
Start off by striking Davis’ first sentence of his piece and then start reading it. A big mistake that he made is by equating signing with a college to play basketball with signing to join a corporation as an employee. The big difference is that playing college sports is a privilege. College athletes are bound by amateurism rules and are given very little rights (and absolutely no money) based on NCAA rules. To equate signing with a college team and signing with a company is futile.
But the most important flaw in Seth’s piece is in the second paragraph, when comparing signing with a college to signing with a company, he says:
You can still have the job even if you don’t sign it.
You can’t get out of the deal unless the company wants to let you out of it.
But 1) you cannot necessarily get onto a major collegiate team if you do not sign a LOI and 2) you can change schools even if the school does not want to let you transfer.
1) Because all top tier athletes sign LOIs with respective teams, if you decide to go against the trend, you put yourself at risk of being left out in the dark. Look around at the college landscape this year (in football and basketball). A lot of teams you would have never imagined going down have lost big games…and to small athletic budget teams. If you think the ball is in your court and that you do not have to sign a LOI, think again. These teams will go for the next best athlete so that they at least know who they are starting well in advance of the upcoming seasons.
2) But also, it may not hurt an athlete very badly to sign a LOI and may actually serve as a security blanket for the player as well. Davis does not go deep into his argument (only giving it two sentences of thought), but when a player signs a LOI, he then is secure from the college reneging on its promise that there will be a spot for him at the school. This is huge! When athletics is often all that these young studs have to rest on, the last thing they need is for a school to say, “Well we thought you would fit, but see…you got injured at the end of high school and we just would rather not take a risk on you at this point. Thanks, but no thanks. We’ll go for the next best athlete. Good luck in your career.” LOIs don’t seem so bad after all, do they?
And now onto this argument about not being able to get out of the LOI. That is true…to an extent. As Davis points out, schools do not give a player any troubles if he wants to get out of the agreement. In addition, such a player can transfer to another school and sit out a year in the process. Sitting out a year is an unpleasant consequence, but it prevents numerous transfers that would otherwise exist, which would truly corrupt the college athletic system.
So high school seniors, sign your LOIs! Do not get the impression that you will be indemnified against being looked over if you choose not to sign with a school.