Roquan Smith won’t sign LOI with new school, per coach

After almost getting burned on signing day, Roquan Smith has decided against signing a national letter of intent (NLI, or commonly called LOI) when he finalizes his college decision, according to his high school coach.

Smith is the 4-star linebacker from Macon County who committed to UCLA over UGA in front of ESPN cameras last Wednesday. Smith didn’t turn in his LOI after reports surfaced later that day that UCLA’s defensive coordinator had accepted a job with the Atlanta Falcons.

ILB Roquan Smith (AJC)

A trendsetter in football recruiting? (AJC)

The original plan was for Smith to take around a week to choose again among his four finalists, which also included Michigan and Texas A&M.

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.

“He’s not going to sign a letter of intent,” Harold said. “The reason why is because what he went through last week. This just gives us flexibility in case something else unexpectedly happens again.”

How do the colleges feel about that? Harold said he gave the news to all four finalists. “Of course, they all said that’s fine. But they were like ‘What does this mean?’ They said this has never been done before, to the best of their knowledge. It could set a precedent. They had to do some research, but they said it indeed could be done and that they’re fine with it.

Macon County coach Larry Harold (AJC)

Macon County coach Larry Harold (AJC)

“I guess you’ll really be able to tell if a coach or college really wants a kid if they’ll agree to do this – letting a kid come to their campus this summer without signing an LOI.”

“Again, we’re doing it this way after what happened last week. I don’t know where this is all going to go. I guess God put Roquan in this position for a reason. Maybe it was meant to help educate other kids about these types of situations.”

Smith is one of several ugly recruiting stories that have dominated the headlines since last Wednesday’s signing day – all involving college coaches who lured kids into signing with their school, only to leave for other jobs shortly after the ink was dry on the letter of intent.

Smith was lucky because he didn’t submit his LOI, but others weren’t as fortunate.

Ohio State’s Urban Meyer was called out by a Detroit high school coach for recruiting “under false pretenses” after the Buckeyes running backs coach left for the NFL the day after signing day. Meanwhile, a Texas recruit tweeted “Guess I was lied to in my face” after a Longhorns assistant was hired away by Florida on Friday.

It has been a hot topic in national blogs, with Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples writing on Monday that the LOI was “the worst contract in American sports.”

“Why is the (LOI) the worst contract in American sports? 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 (LOI) guarantees the player nothing.

“Sure, the (LOI) 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.”

If Smith sticks to his plan of not signing a letter of intent, it would make a bold (and possibly historic statement) in football recruiting circles – but it wouldn’t be a precedent in college athletics. It happens in basketball recruiting among elite prospects, and nobody ever handled it better than former Kentucky basketball star Brendan Knight, as documented in THIS STORY.

Knight was always worried that Kentucky coach John Calipari would take the next NBA job, so he only signed scholarship papers (binding Kentucky to Knight, and not vice versa) and skipped the LOI. He remained committed to Kentucky, and was officially a recruit on his first day of summer classes.

How did Knight know how to play it so well? “My husband and I are very informed,” his mother told the Lexington Herald. “I don’t understand how any parent would not be aware. As a parent, that’s your job.”

Georgia Tech fans will remember in 1995 when the nation’s best point guard (Stephon Marbury of New York) signed a letter of intent with the Yellow Jackets but forgot to turn it in. He became an official Tech recruit on his first day of classes.

There’s also countless examples of other basketball standouts from Georgia getting to the same exact situation, but in a backwards sort of way — after getting a LOI release before enrolling. For example, Rockdale County’s Kevin Ware signed an LOI with Tennessee in 2011’s early period, but asked for his release after Bruce Pearl was fired. Ware later committed to Louisville but couldn’t sign another LOI because NCAA rules only permit a student-athlete to sign one LOI each calendar year. Even though Ware committed, he was technically a free agent until his first day of classes at Louisville that summer.

Three of the state’s top 10 basketball prospects from last year were all involved in the same type of situation as Ware’s – Ahmed Hill of Aquinas (signed with Marquette early, released, committed and enrolled at to Virginia Tech), Whitewater’s Phil Cofer (Tennessee to FSU), and Morgan County’s CJ Turman (Tennessee to Florida Atlantic).

Back to Roquan Smith: He’s going to sign the scholarship papers with his chosen school, just not the LOI (the LOI period ends on April 1).

Does he think this will start a trend among elite football prospects?

“I don’t know, I really don’t know,” Harold said. “I do hope after what happened with the kids from Ohio State and Texas, that the 2016 class of recruits and beyond will take precautions.

“I hope that they will learn from these situations, and they will ask questions to the coaches like ‘Be straight forward and honest with me, are you leaving? Do you plan on leaving anytime soon?’

“You want the best for these kids. They are like your sons. When they hurt, you hurt.”

Note: Just for clarity purposes, there are two main papers that each football recruit signs on signing day: (1) a letter of intent or LOI/NLI (which binds the athlete to the school) and (2) a grant-in-aid or scholarship papers (which bind the college to the athlete). Under Roquan’s plan, which he could change, he would commit to a school, sign the grant-in-aid papers and not the LOI, and then officially be counted as his college’s recruit on his first day of summer classes.

RELATED: My 5 random thoughts on a football recruit skipping the LOI

  1. Roquan Smith may turn out to be a trendsetter, but I think it’s important to understand that his “no LOI” strategy was not calculated and planned in advance. It just fell into place because of circumstances. Without a doubt, however, I think you’ll see a few more kids across the nation using the same strategy next year for signing day – and some will even boldly reveal it in advance. In only a very few situations, and certainly not the majority of situations, this is a wise strategy for a kid to consider IF there are rumors of pending coaching transactions. This post-signing day mess has been a flat-out embarrassment to college football since Wednesday.
  2. But before you think the sky is falling, not many kids will have the leverage to do something like this. Georgia produces around 200 D1 football signees per year, and I’d estimate that around maybe 10 or less out of 200 had the leverage to pull off something like this IN ADVANCE of this year’s signing day. For example, I think UGA or Clemson would’ve waited until kickoff for next season’s opener for Trent Thompson or Mitch Hyatt to report. So that’s 10 kids or less per year who have the leverage to do it (around 5 percent) and maybe only 3-4 that will seriously consider it (less than 2.5 percent). But when it happens it will be big news, so you’ll think it’s happening more than it actually is.
  3. There will also be some kids who aren’t desired enough (or ranked high enough) that will try to pull off this strategy. It won’t work and it won’t be pretty. “You’ve got 15 minutes to sign with Texas, or you can have fun at Texas Southern.” If you’re not ranked higher than 15 or 20 in your state (or don’t have more than 15 committable Power 5 offers), it might be unwise to even bring it up with your college coach.
  4. The NCAA’s proposed early signing period next year for football is truly setting up to be a complete disaster if there’s not a clause that gives an automatic release to signees if there’s a coaching change. Now two things will have to be figured out there: (1) Will the release be contingent on the head coach or (assistant) prospect’s position coach leaving? Or both? You would hope both. (2) And by when does the coach have to leave for the automatic release to take place? In the best interests of the kids, I would think May 1. That’s when spring practice is over and there doesn’t seem to be as many coaching transactions after that date. Of course, I’m betting the college coaches won’t want to go past the first week of February.
  5. What if the colleges colluded and decided together against recruiting a kid who didn’t want to sign an LOI? This was an interesting point of view from Sports Illustrated: “Maybe the Bruins, Bulldogs, Wolverines and Aggies would decide he (Smith) isn’t worth the potential hit to the system … (although) it seems unlikely that all would pass on a player they clearly want. Also, if all these competitors in the market for college football talent did conspire to shun a player they obviously covet, then Smith might get a call from … (the attorney) who cleaned the NCAA’s clock in the O’Bannon case …”