Earlier today in an interview with Adam Zagoria, highly-touted MSU hoops target Malik Newman announced he would not be signing a National Letter of Intent, but rather only the necessary scholarship papers, known as a Financial Aid Agreement. This has become sort of a trend among high-profile recruits across all sports, including college football.
To be quite honest, when I first heard the news, I wasn’t really sure the difference. My research found however that there is in fact a difference that greatly benefits the athlete.
For starters, a National Letter of Intent (often abbreviated as NLI or LOI) binding agreement between a school and a recruit in which the player agrees to attend the school for one year and the school agrees to provide financial aid to the student-athlete. Once the NLI is signed, all other schools must stop contact with that player and he is required to play for that school for one year. Like I said, this essentially “binds” the player to one particular school at the benefit of gaining freedom of relentless recruiters. A NLI must be signed during designated times during the year.
The lesser known fact is that a Financial Aid Agreement, or FAA, is also signed, usually at the same time. This is essentially a LOI for the school stating that they will provide the scholarship money to that player for the upcoming year. The recruit signs this as well, agreeing to the amount for the given year. A player is allowed to sign as many FAAs with as many schools as he would like. Therefore, the FAA is non-binding in the decision aspect. Only signing an FAA means the recruit can switch his commitment to any one of the schools with one of his signed FAAs.
Another benefit to a FAA is that there is no set signing period. A player may wait up until the 1st day of practices (not advised but possible) before deciding on where to attend.
However, most schools offer scholarships to recruits contingent on them signing both the LOI and FAA, ensuring that recruit plays for that school and there is no last-minute switching. There is only a few exceptions, primarily found in the most highly touted prospects, who the school will allow to only sign the FAA.
In the case of Malik Newman, one of the highest rated players in the country, the school he chooses will be fine with not gaining his LOI. This benefits Newman because his recruitment appears to be very close between a large number of schools. If he should decide to commit to a school, then something happen (like a coaching change), he would still be able to freely choose another place without the binding of a LOI at another school. The lack of LOI also gives Newman more time to decide should he want it, however he has stated he will not take any official visits and will more than likely decide on a school very soon after his last all-star game Friday night.
The changing landscape of collegiate athletics presents new ideas every day. For recruits of the highest caliber, with leverage in their recruiting process, not signing a LOI is becoming more and more a viable option for top recruiting the future and it will be interesting to see where it leads.