Letters of Intent (LOI's) are a tricky subject in the realm of college athletics. Run by the Collegiate Commissioner's Association out of the NCAA's Indianapolis headquarters, the National Letter of Intent program is a voluntary system that was put in place to, essentially, end a prospect's recruitment.
Its benefits are twofold; not only is a recruit able to end the constant stream of phone calls and letters from college coaches (well, theoretically at least), it allows those same college coaches a degree of certainty of what their incoming class will look like. In other words, if Bill Self has a point guard in the class of '10 sign an LOI, he can stop recruiting point guards.
As Josh Selby proved this summer, a commitment from a recruit is worth nothing more than the hand it was shaken on. Signing an LOI binds the recruit to the school, with eligibility penalties if he/she does not spend a full year at that institution.
But over the last year, a couple high profile recruits have made headlines due to their LOI's.
Back in November, Seth Davis of SI brought to light an issue with UAB's recruitment of DeMarcus Cousins. You see, Cousins had committed to play for the Blazers, but he refused to sign his LOI unless the school included a clause which allowed Cousins to be released if head coach Mike Davis was no longer the coach.
LOI clauses once again came into the national spotlight this spring when Xavier Henry (and subsequently Nolan Dennis) were allowed out of the LOI's they signed with Memphis when John Calipari left town for Kentucky. Henry and Dennis have since enrolled at Kansas and Baylor, respectively.
Deals such as these will no longer be allowed as the National Letter of Intent Policy and Review Committee has sent a memo to member institutions banning the practice. The memo, which was provided to the Sporting News by a DI coach, states that if any school or any of the school's employees "offers additional conditions, the prospective student-athletes NLI is subject to being declared null and void along with possible institutional penalties." If an athlete wants out of their LOI, they will have to submit a request form, which has been the standard procedure.
Violations of this rule could result in expulsion from the NLI program.
There are a lot of positives with this rule. It eliminates some of the preferential treatment that blue chip recruits receive; the only kids that would have had enough pull to land this type of addendum are the best of the best (sometimes that doesn't even matter - Cousins is a consensus top five recruit and he couldn't get one in his LOI to a C-USA school). It will also be beneficial for guys like Josh Pastner, Calipari's replacement at Memphis, who saw one of the best recruiting classes ever vanish before his eyes as most of Coach Cal's recruits backed out once he left.
The problem that arises is that these kids are not choosing the school they want to go to based on, well, the school. Their choice is centered on which coach they want to play for. This goes against the entire concept of a student-athlete because it makes it obscenely obvious the recruit doesn't care about the schooling he receives or classes he can attend.
But consider this - these kids are choosing a school based on where they think they can receive their best basketball education and who they think is the best basketball "professor". Being a professional basketball player is a profession that can make you a lot of money in a short amount of time. If you want to play for a John Calipari or a Roy Williams (or whatever coach you think will give you the best chance of making the NBA or becoming a successful pro overseas) and that coach leaves the school, isn't it fair to allow the kids enroll at a school with a coach they want to play for (as opposed to whoever the institution hires as a replacement)?
Would anyone complain if a top 10 high school student decided he didn't want to go to Yale because the professor he wanted to study under left?
And that doesn't even take into account the fact that most schools have a drop off in performance when they undergo coaching changes. What if that recruit doesn't want to take part in the rebuilding process while that coach builds a program around "his recruits"?
My hope is that this rule was simply implemented so that the NLI regains control over their program; and that if a recruit no longer wants to attend a certain school due to a coaching change, they will grant him/her their release.