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College football recruiting 101: Get to know the games beyond the game

The Oklahoman 2/2/2023 Jenni Carlson, Oklahoman

The college football recruiting scene has changed a lot in recent years. 

The advent of the transfer portal as well as name, image and likeness has altered the landscape forever, but even if those major changes hadn’t shifted the sands under the college football world, there would still be lots to keep up with.

In case you need a refresher on something that’s been around a while or a crash course on something that’s new, here’s a look at some basics you need to know in college football recruiting.

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What does it mean when you’re recruited?

According to the NCAA’s eligibility center, an athlete is being recruited if a college coach contacts them off campus, pays for their expenses to visit campus, or issues them a national letter of intent or a written offer of financial aid.

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What is a national letter of intent?

A national letter of intent, also known as an NLI, is a legally binding contract between an athlete and a college. It explains what financial aid the school agrees to provide the athlete for one full academic year as long as the athlete is admitted to the school and eligible for financial aid under NCAA rules. 

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What's the difference between NIL and NLI?

Both are part of the recruiting scene nowadays. Before athletes sign their NLI (national letters of intent), they often hear about deals a school will offer through NIL (name, image and likeness). NIL allows athletes to use their name, image and likeness to make money, and while schools can’t directly offer NIL deals to recruits, boosters and supporters can pay prospective athletes through NIL deals, as long as they aren’t contingent on enrollment or performance. Many recruits also consider the NIL deals provided to a program’s players when choosing a school.

What does it mean when you get a football offer?

It’s a scholarship offer. Basically, a coach promises a player he can have a scholarship to their school.

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What does it mean when a football player commits?

A player makes a verbal declaration that he’ll attend a certain school. He becomes a commit. But his proclamation is non-binding, so if something turns off the player about that school or something turns him on to another school, he can de-commit, then commit somewhere else.

What does verbal commitment mean?

A player says he’ll attend a school before he signs a national letter of intent.

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What is a hard commit vs. a soft commit in football?

A player who has made a verbal commitment to a school and is not actively considering other schools is a hard commit. A soft commit is a player who has made a verbal commitment but is open to being recruited by other schools and may visit them.

What’s the difference between a commit and a signee?

A commit is a player who’s given a non-binding verbal commitment to a school. A signee has agreed to the binding national letter of intent by signing his name to it.

What’s the point of National Signing Day?

National signing day (NSD) is the first day of a signing period for national letters of intent. The length of the signing periods varies, but most football players who are ready to sign an NLI will do so on signing day.

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Are there two national signing days?

Football instituted Early Signing Day in 2017, and in this recruiting cycle, it was held Dec. 21. Recruits can sign national letters of intent then ahead of the traditional National Signing Day, which is the first Wednesday in February. It falls on Feb. 1 this year.

How many players can you have in a recruiting class?

The limit has been 25, but last spring, the NCAA granted a two-year waiver to expand the signing limit. A team can replace up to seven players who leave via the transfer portal, meaning the maximum number per recruiting class is 32 players.

What is the transfer portal?

It is an online database where players can place their names and declare a desire to transfer. Players enter the portal by informing their school that they want to transfer, then the school has two business days to enter the player’s name. Prior to the transfer portal’s creation in 2019, players who wanted to transfer had to ask their coaches for permission to contact other schools, then figure out ways to let teams know they wanted to transfer.

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When does the transfer portal open?

Football has a 60-day transfer window split into two. The first, a 45-day window, opened Dec. 5 and closed Jan. 18. A second 15-day window opens May 1 and closes May 15.

What does entering the transfer portal mean?

Simply that a player wants to transfer. It doesn’t guarantee them a spot on another team.

Do transfers sign a national letter of intent?

No. They sign financial athletics aid agreements, a contract onlining how much their scholarship is worth and what they must do to keep their scholarship. 

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Do all college football players sign a national letter of intent?

The only exceptions in the Football Bowl Subdivision are service academies. Players going to Air Force, Army and Navy sign a certificate of intent, a non-binding agreement signifying the athlete’s commitment to follow through with the academies’ appointment process.

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What does ATH stand for in football?

It’s shorthand for athlete, and you’ll see some recruits’ and signees’ position listed as ATH. Of course, all players are athletes, but someone listed as an ATH plays multiple positions and what position he’ll play in college is unknown.

What is a PWO?

Preferred walk-on. Such an offer is extended to a player that a college team wants but isn’t offering a scholarship. Like any walk-on, a preferred walk-on can earn a scholarship later.

What is early enrollment for college football?

A player who is a high school senior can graduate a semester early, then enroll in college a semester ahead of schedule. It allows them not only to get a jump on academics but also to participate in spring football.

What do the terms qualifier and non-qualifier mean?

A qualifier is a high school player who has met the NCAA’s academic requirements to be eligible as a freshman while a non-qualifer has not met those requirements.

What is a grayshirt?

Grayshirts are high school recruits who are offered a delayed scholarship. They sign a national letter of intent, then postpone enrolling in that school until the upcoming season ends, often taking part-time classes but not officially joining the program until the spring semester. It delays the start of the NCAA’s five-year eligibility clock.

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What does being a redshirt mean?

It’s a year that a player does not compete in more than four games. He can receive financial aid, practice and even travel to away games, but as long as he doesn’t cross that four-game threshold, that year does not count against his eligibility.

What is an official visit?

A visit to a college campus where any part of the transportation, food or accommodations are paid by the school. A recruit can take up to five official visits and can make one official visit per school.

How are unofficial visits different from official visits?

A visit to a college campus not paid for by the school.

What is the dead period in NCAA recruiting?

A time when a college or coach may not have any in-person contact with a recruit or their parents.

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What is the quiet period?

Coaches can make in-person recruiting contacts only on campus. No in-person, off-campus contacts with or evaluations of recruits are allowed.

What is the evaluation period?

Coaches can go off campus to assess the playing abilities and academic qualifications of a recruit, but no in-person, off-campus contacts can be made with recruits.

What is a contact period in recruiting?

Coaches can make in-person, off-campus contacts and evaluations with recruits.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: College football recruiting 101: Get to know the games beyond the game

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