You may have heard that November 9th was Signing Day. But what does that mean? Who signed? What did they sign? What happens to me if I didn’t sign?

To begin with, there is no one Signing Day. November 9th kicked off the week-long “Early Signing Period” for all sports other than football, soccer, and men’s water polo.

The NCAA has put into place a number of rules governing the recruiting process for Division I and Division II schools, in order “to create an equitable recruiting environment that promotes student-athlete well-being.” Those rules determine who can contact Prospective Student-Athletes (PSAs), when, and under what circumstances. The recruiting calendar set forth by the NCAA also outlines when PSAs may sign a National Letter of Intent (NLI) binding them to the school of their choice for an academic year. In most sports, there is week-long “Early” Signing Period each year that lasts from the second Wednesday in November (“Signing Day”) until the third Wednesday in November.

Because PSAs are not allowed to sign contracts until official signing periods (see table below for 2016-17 dates), they often make a “verbal commitment” to a college program, which serves as a two-way promise between the PSA and the school, outlining the terms and conditions that will follow in the official contract, or NLI. The NLI program is jointly-run by the NCAA and the Collegiate Commissioners Association (CCA). It is used by 650 Division I and Division II participating institutions. The Ivy League (otherwise, a Division I conference) and the entire NCAA Division III, which do not offer athletic scholarships, do not participate in the program.

The NLI is a contractually binding agreement between a PSA and an NLI member institution. The PSA agrees to attend the school full-time for an agreed-upon period of time, while the school agrees to provide athletic aid for that period. The NLI used to be good for one year, and had to be renewed each year. For the last several years, the NCAA has allowed multiple-year agreements in NLIs.

An important provision of the NLI program is that once a PSA signs the NLI, he or she can no longer be recruited by other member institutions. If a PSA does not fulfill the NLI agreement, he/she “has to serve one year in residence (full-time, two semesters or three quarters) at the next NLI member institution and lose one season of competition in all sports.”

NLI Signing Dates for Prospective Student-Athletes Signing 2016-17 and Enrolling 2017-18

Sport (s) Initial Signing Date Final Signing Date
Basketball (Early Period) November 9, 2016 November 16, 2016
Basketball (Regular Period) April 12, 2017 Division I: May 17, 2017
Division II: August 1, 2017
Football (Midyear JC Transfer) December 14, 2016 January 15, 2017
Football (Regular Period) February 1, 2017 April 1, 2017
Soccer and Men’s Water Polo February 1, 2017 August 1, 2017
All Other Sports (Early Period) November 9, 2016 November 16, 2016
All Other Sports (Regular Period) April 12, 2017 August 1, 2017

So while the 2016 Early Signing Period ended on Wednesday, November 16, it doesn’t mean the recruiting season ended then, too. Yes, many of the biggest and wealthiest programs will have set their rosters for the class of 2021, but there are hundreds of schools that will continue to recruit PSAs all the way through next spring.