So What Is Signing Day, Anyway?

You may have heard that tomorrow is Signing Day. But what does that mean? Who is signing what? Why tomorrow? What happens if I don’t have anything to sign tomorrow?

You’ve probably noticed that for the last six months we have written nearly 700 articles about prospective student-athletes (PSAs) who have made verbal commitments to swim or to dive for a college program. The reason they make verbal commitments is that the NCAA has determined that no PSA in swimming and diving (remember, it’s one sport in college) may sign a National Letter of Intent (NLI) until the second Wednesday in November, which is the beginning of the week-long “Early” Signing Period each year. A verbal commitment, then, serves as a two-way promise between the PSA and the school, outlining the terms and conditions that will follow in the official contract, or NLI.

The NLI program is jointly-run by the NCAA and the Collegiate Commissioners Association (CCA). It is used by 650 Division I and Division II participating institutions. The Ivy League (otherwise, a Division I conference) and the entire NCAA Division III, which do not offer athletic scholarships, do not participate in the program.

The NLI is a contractually binding agreement between a PSA and an NLI member institution. The PSA agrees to attend the school full-time for an agreed-upon period of time, while the school agrees to provide athletic aid for that period. The NLI used to be good for one year, and had to be renewed each year. For the last several years, the NCAA has allowed multiple-year agreements in NLIs.

An important provision of the NLI program is that once a PSA signs the NLI, he or she can no longer be recruited by other member institutions. If a PSA does not fulfill the NLI agreement, he/she “has to serve one year in residence (full-time, two semesters or three quarters) at the next NLI member institution and lose one season of competition in all sports.”

In swimming and diving, there is an Early Period which lasts one week from the second Wednesday in November to the third Wednesday in November, during which a PSA may sign an NLI. At the conclusion of that week, no NLI can be signed until the “Regular Period” begins in April. NLIs cannot be signed before 7 am of the PSA and Parent/Legal Guardian’s local time on the first day of the signing period. The PSA must sign the NLI and athletics aid agreement within 7 days of the date it was issued; otherwise, the NLI is invalid. (The 7-day signing deadline does not apply if the PSA receives the NLI on the last day of a signing period.)

Early Signing Period for Swimming and Diving, 2016

  • Beginning – November 9, 2016
  • End – November 16, 2016

Regular Sigining Period for Swimming and Diving, 2016

  • Beginning – April 12, 2017
  • End – August 1, 2017

So while tomorrow opens the 2016 Early Signing Period, it doesn’t mean the recruiting season ends on November 16. Yes, many of the biggest and wealthiest programs will have set their rosters for the class of 2021, but there are hundreds of schools that will continue to recruit PSAs all the way through next spring.

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Prospect Student Athlete
4 years ago

What about NAIA schools? Do they have any form of letter of intent to sign? I’m thinking about committing to a NAIA school and I’ve always dreamed about signing a letter of intent.

Rick Paine
Reply to  Prospect Student Athlete
4 years ago

NAIA schools have their own form similar to the NLI.

Alyson Hannan
4 years ago

Dear Prospective Student Athlete,

As a head coach of a NAIA school we do have a letter of intent that you may sign. It is different from the NLI as we aren’t affiliated with NCAA. Each school has their own letter of intent. Some schools will stipulate in the letter of intent different conference transfer restrictions that may apply.

Prospect Student Athlete
Reply to  Alyson Hannan
4 years ago

Great to hear thanks

Michelle Lombana
4 years ago

Many swimmers and divers prefer to sign in the fall to know they have a spot on the roster and to take the pressure off. However, there are also many who choose to wait until the spring. Some kids are just not ready to decide where they want to go to college that early, while others are trying to improve their times so they qualify for faster schools.

Elizabeth Wickham
4 years ago

Great article, Anne! You clearly explain what can be confusing to many parents and swimmers.

About Anne Lepesant

Anne Lepesant

Anne Lepesant is the mother of four daughters, all of whom swam in college. With an undergraduate degree from Princeton (where she was an all-Ivy tennis player) and an MBA from INSEAD, she worked for many years in the financial industry, both in France and the U.S. Anne is currently …

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