Dr. William Davis, Professor of Government and Faculty Athletics Representative at Texas Tech University, founded the National Letter of Intent (NLI) program in 1964. In developing the program, Dr. Davis received valuable assistance from Howard Grubbs, then Commissioner of the Southwest Conference. Fred Jacoby was appointed Chair of the National Letter of Intent Steering Committee in 1973 and served in that capacity until his retirement in June 1995. In January 1995, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) was appointed to serve as the national office for the NLI program, and former SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer was named Chair of the NLI Steering Committee. In 2002, Roy Kramer's successor as Commissioner of the SEC, Mike Slive, was named to Chair the NLI Steering Committee.
In October 2007, administration of the National Letter of Intent program came under the auspices of the NCAA Eligibility Center, though policy and philosophical oversight responsibility remained with the Collegiate Commissioners Association. In evaluating a different management approach, the Collegiate Commissioners Association (CCA) voted to modify the name and directive of the NLI Steering Committee. At that time, Tom Yeager, Commissioner of the Colonial Athletic Association succeeded Mike Slive on the NLI Committee.
Today, in addition to Commissioner Yeager, membership of the NLI Policy & Review Committee includes:
- Britton Banowsky, Commissioner of Conference USA;
- Dan Beebe, Commissioner of the Big 12 Conference;
- Jon LeCrone, Commissioner of the Horizon League; and
- Dennis Thomas, Commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
From 1964 to 1973, the NLI rules were very specific, with little flexibility provided to meet the needs of a particular sport. During that period of time, only one signing date existed for all sports (May 20), student-athletes failing to fulfill the obligations of an NLI were charged with the loss of two seasons of eligibility in all sports, and few appeals to the rules were ever considered.
Since 1973, keys to the success of the NLI program have included:
- Adaptation of NLI policies and procedures that meet the needs of participating members;
- Participation in the NLI program is voluntary, with conferences and institutions that want to join registering annually; and
- Those institutions that choose to participate in the program work cooperatively to make the NLI functional.
The NLI is a voluntary program with regard to both institutions and student-athletes. No prospective student-athlete or parent is required to sign the National Letter of Intent, and no institution is required to join the program.
Originally, the NLI was printed on one sheet (front and back) of paper. In addition, a single page of answers to frequently asked questions supported the one-page document. Interestingly, when a new NLI policy was suggested, the typical response was, "Don't suggest a new rule unless it can fit onto one page."
In 1991, former Pacific-10 Conference Associate Commissioner David Price worked with the Conference's legal counsel to revise and expand the NLI to its current four-page format. The expanded NLI was created to:
- Combine the men's and women's NLI into one Letter; and
- Include official interpretations and rules into one document for clarity.