Wednesday is the first day high school cross county and track and field athletes can sign national letters of intent. "National Letters of Intent" or "Signing Day" are often used as generic terms to describe an athlete signing paperwork to commit to competing at a specific college or university. However, it has a more specific meaning. The early signing period is an eight-day period from November 8-15 this year, in which student-athletes can sign binding agreements to attend and compete at the collegiate levels. This period is specific to NCAA Division I and Division II Schools, as things are different for NCAA Division III and NAIA schools.
Signing a National Letter of Intent by a student-athlete, receiving scholarship dollars or not, binds that person to attending that school, with consequences if he or she doesn't, specifically sitting out time before being eligible to compete at another institution, unless the first institution releases the student-athlete from their commitment. NCAA Division I and II schools previously recruiting athletes that sign with another school, must end their recruitment after an athlete signs an "NLI".
Former Lafayette distance running superstar Austin Hindman at his signing ceremony in 2016. Hindman signed with the University of Missouri, where he is competing and continue to train for the triathlon.
Prospective student athletes looking at NAIA colleges or universities can commit to and sign agreements at anytime, and aren't binding, allowing athletes to change their mind and go elsewhere without financial or eligibility repercussions. However they do show a school's interest and commitment.
Scholarship dollars in cross country and track and field are extremely valuable because they are so limited. At last check, NCAA Division I Schools are allowed a maximum of 19.2 full-scholarships to hand out for their female cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field athletes. On the men's side, that total is just 12.6. So to fill out a full cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field teams, a school can give out a max of 19.2 and 12.6 scholarships to field a team that usually adds to up 60 or more athletes. That's not a lot of dollars to spread around, especially on the men's side. Consider Division I Football Bowl Subdivision Teams can have a maximum of 80 full scholarships, without the ability to split or slice them up, which happens all the time in cross country and track.
And just because a school is allowed to hand out that many scholarships, doesn't mean they all do. Scholarship money has to come from somewhere. While sure, some tuition, books, and housing costs can often be inflated to help subsidize other programs, most scholarship money has to come from some where. So schools have to stick to their budget and if they can only afford 50% of the scholarship limit, to be able to keep paying their coaches, pay for equipment and travel, then that's what they have to do.
The regular signing period for DI and DII schools begins April 11 and runs through August 1 next year. After that, athletes can still make college decisions and receive scholarships, but can't sign an NLI, just a financial aid agreement.
Kirkwood sprint star Hava Turner at her 2016 signing ceremony with NCAA D-II Powerhouse Academy of Art University in California.
For many though, Wednesday will be the end of a long recruiting process. For coaches, it can begin when athletes are freshman and sophomores, or earlier, as athletes performances put them on coaches radar. Then for cross country and track, official contact with athletes can begin in late summer before their junior year. Then in early summer before an athletes senior year, coaches can make home visits, and athletes can eventually take official and unofficial visits to schools.
For athletes, it's often the end of an exciting but stressful time. As college programs and coaches show interest in an athlete, often with early mailed questionnaires, or online questionnaires on school's athletic website that any athlete can fill out at any time. The interest from coaches can be very flattering, but soon, athletes realize this is just the beginning of anxiety-filled decision process that must end with a decision where and with whom they want to spend the next 4-5 years of their lives.
Congrats to all the athletes that have made decisions to continue to compete at the next level, and have found the right place to do that.
Athletes, parents, and coaches, share your or your athlete's college commitment and photos with the by tagging MoMileSplit on twitter and mo.milesplit on instagram or using: #MOXCTFSigned if they have signed their agreements, or #MOXCTFCommit if they have made their commitment, just not signed paperwork yet.