Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated has called the National Letter of Intent (NLI) the "worst contract in American sports."
Staples explains why:
It requires players to sign away their right to be recruited by other schools. If they don’t enroll at the school with which they signed, they forfeit a year of eligibility. Not a redshirt year, but one of their four years to play. In return, the NLI guarantees the player nothing.
Sure, the NLI claims to guarantee a scholarship, but that simply isn’t true. That is contingent on the player being admitted to the school and on the football program staying below the 85-scholarship limit. A school can dump the player at any point between Signing Day and preseason camp, and he would have no recourse. This guarantee is no different than the one on a conference-approved financial aid form, but it costs the player something the financial aid agreement does not.
For that very reason, it does not look like Roquan Smith will be signing an NLI after he commits to the college of his choice.
In an article on AJC.com, Michael Carvell writes:
Macon County coach Larry Harold told the AJC on Monday that Smith now has "no timetable" on selecting a school, but that he "doesn’t expect it to drag out too much longer" with his star player.
Perhaps most significant, Smith’s coach also revealed that the linebacker won’t be signing a letter of intent after finalizing his college plans. Smith will commit, and then officially be a recruit when he attends his first day of summer classes.
Harold explained to Carvell:
He’s not going to sign a letter of intent. The reason why is because what he went through last week. This just gives us flexibility in case something else unexpectedly happens again.
The situation with Jeff Ulbrich was not unique to UCLA. Similar situations occurred at Ohio State, Florida and Texas where assistant coaches were planning on leaving for jobs in the NFL or at other schools. The difference at those other schools is that the departures were not leaked until after each school's recruits had all signed their NLIs, locking players into those schools.
We've, obviously, seen kids with NLI issues before. Eddie Vanderdoes signed his NLI and committed to Notre Dame. He had to fight like hell to not lose a year of eligibility. But, Roquan Smith may be one of the first football players who refuse to sign an NLI and remain a recruit until his first day of class after the NLI signing period. (Josh Rosen and others who enroll early sign their grant-in-aid papers and never sign an NLI because classes begin before the NLI signing period starts.)
Ultimately, this may be, as Carvell points out, the start of a trend. It may even lead to the abolition of the NLI system altogether. In the last year, the O'Bannon case and the Northwestern Football union vote have started to swing the pendulum from the NCAA and its members having all the power to the players having more power. Roquan Smith's refusal to sign an NLI may result in contributing more to the power swing and that's not a bad thing.
In fact, Roquan Smith making a difference sounds just like someone who would fit in well at UCLA.