What Is an NLI? Don’t Confuse It With NIL

    An NLI is vital to the signing of recruits in college football. Until an NLI is signed a recruit's commitment isn't legally binding.

    With college football’s early signing day on the horizon, you will soon hear a lot about NLI. It is vital to college football, as is NIL. But the two are completely different things.

    NIL stands for name, image, and likeness, while NLI is the National Letter of Intent, an agreement between a recruit and a school.

    What Is an NLI?

    You may be familiar with the image of a star high school recruit sitting in front of a camera surrounded by school caps before the athlete puts one on and declares they are attending said college. It is a commitment to a school in front of the nation, but the commitment isn’t truly official until a document is signed.

    A National Letter of Intent (NLI) is a legally binding agreement between a school and a prospective student-athlete that commits the player to a particular college. NLIs are used to make the commitment official between a school and a recruit and lock both parties into the deal.

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    Until an NLI is signed, the commitment by a recruit is only verbal and isn’t an official declaration to a school. The NLI only becomes official when it is signed by the student-athlete. Until that moment, athletes can still be actively recruited, and a school can also back out of the agreement.

    The NLI program is managed by the NCAA, while the Collegiate Commissioners Association oversee the use of the program. The program started in 1964 and now has 652 schools across Division I and Division II signed up across collegiate sports.

    The National Letter of Intent organization states, “All colleges and universities that participate in the NLI program agree to not recruit a prospective student-athlete once he or she signs an NLI with another college or university.”

    That means once pen hits paper on the NLI contract, schools are “prohibited” from recruiting student-athletes.

    AN NLI gives both the school and the recruit certainty that the relationship as the agreement comes with terms and conditions.

    By signing the NLI, a recruit agrees to “attend the institution full-time for one academic year (two semesters or three quarters).” While the institution agrees to “provide athletics financial aid for one academic year (two semesters or three quarters).”

    If either the recruit or the school breaks the legally binding contract, they are harshly punished.

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