By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
In this Q&A, we go behind the scenes at the offices of the Southeastern Conference. We spoke with Executive Associate Commissioner/Chief Operating Officer Greg Sankey.
SEC Digital Network: When student-athletes sign with a certain school on Signing Day, what documents are they actually putting their name on?
Sankey: In the SEC they are actually signing a couple of documents. One is the actual National Letter of Intent (NLI) and the second is an SEC financial aid agreement. The first document, the NLI, sets out the dynamics of their signing, the end of their recruitment and their commitment to a particular institution and a sport. The financial aid agreement will set forth the athletic scholarship they will receive upon enrollment at the institution. Sometimes there is an institutional document as well explaining policies and procedures.
SEC Digital Network: Can you explain just what the NLI is and what it means once the student-athlete signs it?
Sankey: It's an agreement between a prospective student-athlete and his or her family and the university or college where they are signing. Essentially, the prospective student-athlete is saying that they are going to attend this university (where they sign) and I'm going to participate in the sport listed for a particular period of time. A year has been the norm. That's the minimal requirement for the National Letter of Intent. The university is saying if you attend this institution and participate in the sport as you have indicated, they we are providing you this amount of athletics aid. Generally in football it is a full athletic scholarship, because it is what is called a "head-count" sport. Then, among the other institutions out there, part of the agreement with the NLI is that is the moment where recruiting ceases.
The importance of Signing Day is that it is the first opportunity to sign, and then when someone signs the other Division I and Division II institutions that participate in the NLI program agree that the recruitment of that prospect will cease.
SEC Digital Network: Is the scholarship renewable every year, or is it something that carries out through their entire collegiate career?
Sankey: That's an interesting question, because the NCAA rules changed just over a year from now. Historically, since the early 1970s, an athletics scholarship had been a one-year offer of athletic aid. Now, it is permissible to offer athletics scholarships from more than one year, even up to the full period of college athletics eligibility. The SEC has not established a Conference policy on the minimum or maximum number of years associate an offer of an athletics scholarship.
SEC Digital Network: What is the significance of Signing Day? Is there a special reason one day is designated for student-athletes to make their college choices.
Sankey: It is the first opportunity under NCAA rules for an individual to sign a document, a scholarship agreement or a National Letter of Intent to attend an institution. That applies really to high school seniors, there are some alternate dates for junior college transfers, but it is really for the class of prospective student-athletes eligible to enroll that fall for the first time at a four-year college.
SEC Digital Network: Alright, the student-athlete has chosen a school. What steps do they have to take to make sure they are eligible to compete once they arrive on campus?
Sankey: They are going to have to be ruled eligible by the NCAA's Eligibility Center and that will happen generally in the late spring and early summer for most. Which means they are going to have to graduate, they are going to have to finish up their core course work and achieve the needed SAT or ACT score. Most of the requirements for eligibility, using that broad term, relate to their academic status. Then they need to avoid problems that could compromise their amateur status, like taking benefits from inappropriate people.
SEC Digital Network: On Signing Day, what is the SEC's role? What happens at the conference offices that day?
Sankey: We hope it is quiet, quite honestly. Our schools are all well versed in the rules and policies. What will being happening at some point during Signing Day is we will receive notifications and copies of the NLIs and financial aid agreements faxed or email to us, confirming who has signed. We have a responsibility to review those and make sure they are actually valid and have the proper signatures executed on the proper dates and times. Then we enter that information and submit it to the National Letter of Intent office at the NCAA Eligibility Center.
SEC Digital Network: Who are the people helping a high school athlete through this process? How can he or she know they are taking the correct steps and following all guidelines?
Sankey: It is probably a handful of folks. College coaches actually, as part of the recruiting process will be in communication. Our universities typically send a pretty detailed set of instructions about how to sign and properly complete the documents. Through the decision making process, that no doubt falls to prospective student-athletes and their family and those around them.
SEC Digital Network: Do student-athletes still fax in documents? With all the technology available, is this still the preferred method of confirmation?
Sankey: Fax is the common methodology right now for quick notice. There is not the ability to hand deliver documents and so the fax machine that may be inactive 364 days of the year becomes active on National Signing Day right now.