by Catharine Aradi www.fastpitchrecruiting.com General Information
If you sign a letter of intent to accept athletic-based aid at an NCAA Div. I or II college, it is a one-year commitment, and once you've signed, you're prohibited from talking to coaches at other schools about recruitment. The same applies to NJCAA letters of intent. You may not talk to coaches at other NJCAA colleges. However, you could speak to coaches at 4-year schools about recruiting. Once you are enrolled at an NCAA, NAIA or NJCAA college other contact/commitment rules apply. Consult your specific college association or conference about these.
1) NCAA Div. I or II
If you accept a scholarship offer of athletic-based financial aid at a Div. I or II college (in other words softball money), you will be asked to sign a National Letter of Intent. This NLI will reflect only athletic based aid. So, if your total aid package at a college includes $1500 in softball money, $5000 in academic money, $1500 in work study and a $2000 loan, only the $1500 softball money will appear on your NLI. For softball, the signing period runs from the second Wednesday in November until the following August 1.
If you go to a Div. I or II school as a walk on, recruited or not, and you are receiving no athletic money, you will not sign a National Letter of Intent. (Note: In some cases, your coach might ask you to sign a conference commitment letter which would prevent you from attending another school in that conference for at least one year.)
For more info on this, go to: www.nationalletter.org
2) For NCAA Div. III
If you decide to attend a Div. III college, you will not receive any athletic based aid. Therefore you will not sign a National Letter of Intent. However, Division III institutions are permitted to use a standard, NCAA provided, non-binding celebratory signing form. A prospective student-athlete is permitted to sign the celebratory signing form at any point, including high school signing events, after the prospective student-athlete has been accepted to the institution. Institutions should keep in mind, however, that they are not permitted to publicize a prospective student-athlete’s commitment to the institution until the prospective student-athlete has submitted a financial deposit. This signing is merely symbolic. Div. III schools don't offer athletic aid, so while a student can commit to a Div. III school, she's not locked into the team in the same way she would be if she signed an NLI at a Div. I or II college.)
3) For NAIA colleges
The NAIA does not use a National Letter of Intent. If you commit to attend an NAIA school and you accept athletic based aid, you may sign a letter of commitment to attend that school. There is no set time period for doing this, however. It is left up to each institution. Some NAIA conferences have additional rules about commitments, so it's good to ask your coach about this.
4) For Junior Colleges
There are 3 different junior college athletic associations. The vast majority of junior colleges belong to the NJCAA. NJCAA Div. I and II colleges may offer athletic-based aid. If you accept an offer, you would sign an NJCAA NLI. This would mean you have committed to attend that JC for 1 year. California community colleges have their own athletic association (California Community College Athletic Association), and they do not offers scholarships nor use any letter of intent. Northwest community colleges also have their own athletic association (Northwest Athletic Conference), however, their members may offer athletic-based aid and they have their own NLI. (If you sign at a junior college and later elect to attend a 4-year school, there is no problem. You'll still be eligible to complete. You just can't sign at an NJCAA or NWAC JC and then play at another JC.)
Please note: Every scholarship has specific conditions/criteria, including when/if it can be renewed, taken away, increased, etc. Also, if you elect to transfer from one college to another, there will be guidelines you must follow depending on whether or not your coach releases you, whether you intend to play softball, and so on. Consult the NCAA, NAIA or appropriate junior college organization for details.