The nasty side of NLIs

National Letter of Intents are one of the worst things in the college basketball universe. At no time is that more evident than during the spring recruiting season. Teenagers are asked to essentially sign control of the next four years of their life away for the chance at a basketball scholarship at a major university.

Sometimes it works out great. And other times not so much. Right now we're seeing the nastier side develop at DePaul. Currently Jean Lenti Ponsetto is refusing to release Walter Pitchford from his NLI even though the coach has changed from Jerry Wainwright to Oliver Purnell.
Now, to be fair, this is something Ponsetto said she would do long before now. When Wainwright  resigned in December she said then that she had no intention of releasing the players from their letters of intent and that she was committed to getting them to DePaul.
So this isn't a new situation, and honestly, DePaul is doing what is within their rights as an institution under the NCAA recruiting bylaws. The National Letter of Intent is a binding agreement that commits a student-athlete to spending at least one academic year on campus. You can read all about exactly what that means here.
Of course saying it's "voluntary" for all but the elite recruits is a tricky proposition. If a recruit doesn't sign the NLI then there is no guarantee that they'll attend the school next season. Thus what's to stop the school from recruiting other players that will sign leaving that guy out in the cold? Of course if you're Terrence Jones or Brandon Knight the school can wait. Neither of these players signed an NLI because well let's just say Kentucky's head coach is known to skip around a bit.
But that all changes if you're someone like Pitchford. 

Pitchford is a good basketball recruit. Scouts Inc. has him as the 63rd best power forward in the country. But he's certainly a late bloomer and Wainwright scooped him up early in the recruiting process. He's also not good enough for someone to hold a scholarship for indefinitely. Pitchford wanted a scholarship, so he signed his NLI to DePaul. And now he's stuck.

Of course the next place recruits are taking this battle is the court of public opinion. If DePaul won't release Pitchford, then he'll make Ponsetto and Purnell's job miserable. Look at the press this move has gotten.
And that's just with what Walter's father is saying. Still, this all seemed pretty inevitable once Mac Koshwal left early. With four holes to fill if Purnell wants to get started early in building a solid base, a 6'10" player like Pitchford can provide exactly that type of impact. DePaul tried to find someone else that could make as large of a difference on the court and couldn't, at least not right now.
And so we're stuck with a situation that works for nobody thanks to the NLI. The school gets a publicity black eye, Pitchford is forced to play at DePaul or sit out a season, and recruits are none the wiser. It's the system college basketball lives under right now, and it's a tough one.
Josh Reed had a good look at NLIs back in April on Basketball Prospectus.

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