February 7, 2010
Speaking of quarterbacks and intents...
Headline-grabbing Trojans football Coach Lane Kiffin sent shockwaves through amateur sports last week when he announced that he had obtained an "oral" commitment from 13-year old, 7th grader David Sills to attend USC in return for a scholarship. Master Sills will not be eligible to actually sign a Letter of Intent until 2015, but, as The Daily News highlighted in an article yesterday, NCAA rules don't currently prohibit college football coaches from engaging in unwritten deals.
The trendy "oral commitment" appears to be the junior varsity version of the famed Letter of Intent, a curious undertaking at best. The NCAA web site describes the agreement as such:
The National Letter of Intent (NLI) is a binding agreement between a prospective student-athlete and an institution in which the institution agrees to provide a prospective student-athlete who is admitted to the institution and is eligible for financial aid under NCAA rules athletics aid for one academic year in exchange for the prospective student-athlete's agreement to attend the institution for one academic year. All colleges and universities that participate in the NLI program agree to not recruit a prospective student-athlete once he or she signs an NLI with another college or university. Therefore, a prospective student-athlete who signs an NLI should no longer receive recruiting contacts and calls and is ensured an athletics scholarship for one academic year. The NLI must be accompanied by an institutional financial aid agreement. If the prospective student-athlete does not enroll at that institution for a full academic year, he or she may be subject to specific penalties, including loss of a season of eligibility and a mandatory residence requirement.
The definition assumes the presence of a writing, ties fulfillment of the contract to standards of academic performance and financial need, limits the term to one-year, references penalties only for the student and reveals a mission of minimizing recruitment efforts. While Coach Kiffin's "deal" may simply represent hype, the larger issue of promises by colleges to young athletes continues to be a nasty business. Caselaw - which sounds in both torts and contracts - centers on conflicts arising when athletes are either not granted starting positions or cut from the team while still provided full tuition (e.g., evidencing vastly incompatible intents between the signatories).
It is of course folly to imagine that successful sports teams don't actively court youth. Hockey great Bobby Orr was identified by the Boston Bruins when he was 12; a Houston Astros scout discovered Mets ace Johan Santana when the leftie was 15. But observers can note that judges don't necessarily take a college's sprint towards a child star in stride. As a federal court stated back in 1994, the "tension" between amateur athletics and professional sports is such "that it may no longer be wished away," as the dreams of America's youthful athletes are filled with "so much money that a sea of green washes away the vestigial illusion that major college sports are not simply a farm system for the professional leagues." Fortay v. Univ. of Miami, 1994 US Dist LEXIS 1865. Overall, one is reminded of the jovial (yet haunting) quip of sportscaster Bob Uecker: "I loved little league baseball so much, I'd have played for free."
February 7, 2010 | Permalink