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National Letters of Intent

September 25, 2003 Columns No Comments


Letters of Intent

by Phil Kasiecki

In late July, the National Letter of Intent Steering Committee announced that Kris Humphries would be allowed to play for the Minnesota Golden Gophers this winter, just a few months after he was released from the national letter of intent he signed at Duke last November. Humphries asked for and obtained the release, despite the lack of extenuating circumstances. This is a case for which the outcome was eagerly awaited, as a bad precedent could have – and now apparently has been – set with this decision.

In recent years, players have opted out of the letter of intent when coaching changes have occurred or a school has been involved in a scandal that may lead to punishment. In 2002, it happened with Andre Iguodala (Arizona), Ashanti Cook (Georgetown) and Armondo Suratt (Miami), among others; this past season, it happened with all of Georgia’s early signees, and there were concerns that those who had signed in the fall with schools that had coaching changes after the season, most notably Kansas and Illinois. While the NLI specifically states in bold print that a player is signing with the institution and not the coach – and we are still talking about educational institutions – the effect of a coaching change cannot be underestimated and it is understandable that a recruit may want to change schools when there is a coaching change.

But Duke did not have such a change. The coaching staff has not changed, the school has not been penalized by the NCAA for any violations, and if there are any circumstances dictating that he needs to be close to home, they have not been reported. In essence, Humphries changed schools as freely as a current player transferring, save for not having to sit out one year.

“That sets a bad, bad precedent”, said Northeastern head coach Ron Everhart. “It completely invalidates what the National Letter of Intent is all about.”

This precedent now calls into question the legitimacy of the Early Signing Period, which was first implemented in 1982. Since that time, more and more players have signed with a school in November every year, especially among the most highly-recruited players. This past year, All-Star Report’s Bob Gibbons reported that 136 of the top 150 players signed a NLI in November. Many top players want to end their recruitments early so they can simply play basketball their senior year. But increasingly, coaches may have to continue to fully recruit players they thought they already signed – something one would not expect to be necessary given what the NLI is all about.

The easy way to avoid all of the controversy is for players to simply verbally commit to a school in the fall, but not sign until the spring. That is what Charlie Villanueva did this past year, as he committed to Illinois in the fall but did not sign. When Bill Self left Illinois to take the head coaching position at Kansas, Villanueva did not have to decide between honoring his commitment or appealing to the NLI Steering Committee to play next season; all he had to do was decide which school he would play at if he did not stay in the NBA Draft. Ultimately, he signed with Connecticut and withdrew from the draft.

While there has been much talk about a need for changes with the NLI, it looks fine as it currently stands given the practices of the NLI Steering Committee prior to the decision on Humphries. By and large, it has granted waivers to allow recruits to sign with and play immediately at another institution if there was a coaching change or if extenuating circumstances were involved (such as the family illness that led Alabama’s Kennedy Winston to opt out of his NLI with California last year). And for the most part, players have stayed with the school they signed with if there is a coaching change, so while players should be able to move freely just as coaches can, it does not look like allowing them to do so will get out of hand. Notably, none of the fall signees at Kansas or Illinois opted out of their commitments to follow the coach to his new school.

Notes from Around the Nation

Northeastern finalized its schedule with a road contest at Florida on December 22. The Huskies were looking for a home game to finish out its schedule, but were unable to get one. As many Huskies have roots in south Florida, they will get to play in front of family members, and the game will challenge the team that looks to be the favorite in America East. The Huskies have a strong and deep backcourt, and add athletic combo forward Bennett Davis to a frontcourt that returns everyone from last season.

• While the sordid affair at Baylor has more important elements than basketball involved, two schools certainly made big gains from what transpired once players were allowed to transfer and play immediately. Mississippi State got badly needed frontcourt help when All-America candidate Lawrence Roberts transferred there, as the Bulldogs lost Mario Austin and fall signee Travis Outlaw to the NBA Draft, while Jackie Butler failed to qualify and is in prep school. Meanwhile, Big 12 rival Oklahoma State, which lost starting point guard Victor Williams from last season’s team, gained John Lucas III, who should run the show right away.

• How many more players will fail to be admitted to a school? Georgetown transfer Drew Hall could not be admitted to Gonzaga, and has now enrolled at College of Charleston. Walter Waters was not admitted to Pittsburgh, and will now give Cleveland State a big boost if he can play more like he did as a rising junior. Waters was once considered among the elite prospects in the class of 2003, before a mediocre summer as a rising senior started to lower his stock. Minnesota recruit Wesley Washington, who got his qualifying score several months ago, suddenly was not admitted to Minnesota and is looking to go to a school closer to home, where he will have instant eligibility. Temple signee Jesus Verdejo was looking at having to sit out as a Prop 48 this season, but couldn’t be admitted to the university. He will do a prep year at Winchendon (MA) School.

     

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