Roquan Smith is breaking new ground, setting much-needed precedent


Roquan Smith is one of the nation’s top football recruits, and he’s bucking the system in a way that has needed to be done for a long time.

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The Bulldog Nation watched with great anticipation on National Signing Day, as 4-star linebacker and Georgia target Roquan Smith reached into his duffel bag to reveal his choice of schools, which had been narrowed down to Georgia and UCLA.

After a long pause of digging in the bag, Smith sat up with a pair of UCLA gloves on his hands, and announced his commitment to the Bruins.

For most players, that signifies the end of a long journey and they finish the drill by signing their National Letter of Intent to attend the school they have chosen. But for Smith, it was only the beginning of a saga that is still playing out.

If you aren’t familiar with the Letter of Intent (LOI), it’s probably one of the most unfair and completely authoritarian contracts you’ll ever see. In essence, it says that once the student-athlete signs and sends in his LOI, he is bound to that school. And if for some reason things should change at the school or if the student has a change of heart, well….tough.

Players literally have to ask to be released from their LOI should they decide to go another direction. Mind you, these are players who are deciding which school they will attend for their education as well as their playing days, and for many of them, those playing days end when they leave school.

I’ve seen non-compete agreements in professional circles that weren’t as unforgiving and difficult to get out of as the LOI. It’s just one more draconian edict that the NCAA and these schools use to their advantage.

But back to Smith. After choosing UCLA, he found himself in a position that several players did on this particular NSD week. One of the UCLA coaches who Smith was most anticipating working with, defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, was leaving the school to join the new Atlanta Falcons coaching staff.

Immediately, Smith recoiled and decided he was going to rethink his decision, and opened himself back up to his final four possible choices; UCLA, Georgia, Texas A&M and Michigan.

The young man took a lot of heat for going on national television and announcing his decision, but then not signing his LOI. But who can blame him? The coach who was going to be the biggest influence in his career at UCLA was suddenly and unexpectedly leaving. He had every right to second-guess.

There were several recruits to a number of different schools who found themselves in similar positions, with coaches announcing their departure just a day or two after National Signing Day. It has become an ugly side of the recruiting world, and many players feel they are being lied to and deceived in order to get their commitment and signature.

Smith’s plan is now to just wait. He’s not going to sign a Letter of Intent. He’s telling the system to go take a flying leap, and deservedly so.

Did you read that? He’s not going to sign a Letter of Intent. Period.

Oh, he’s going to choose a school, and he’s going to sign scholarship papers and enroll at that school for the first day of summer classes, and when that happens, he’ll officially be a student and player at that university. But between now and then, he’s not locking himself into anything.

Good for him.

Now there have been instances in the past where players forgot to send in their letters, or signed them and then had to ask for a release before they would be able to enroll elsewhere. But in college football, this is the first instance of a nationally recognizable recruit simply refusing to sign a LOI.

Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia Bulldogs /

Georgia Bulldogs

Will it start a trend? Smith’s coach Larry Harold told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he wasn’t sure.

“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.”

But it needs to be a trend. We need to see more Roquan Smiths telling the NCAA and their ridiculous rules to have a seat. This is his future; not UCLA’s future and not Georgia’s future. Those institutions will go on their merry way just fine without Smith. But a wrong turn for him could spell disaster for his future.

If more top recruits stop agreeing to sign this binding letter of intent, then the whole fiasco and circus that has become National Signing Day will begin to find much less importance and spotlight. That’s something which needs to happen…badly.

Regardless of which school he chooses, Roquan Smith is striking a blow for every recruit who has been seemingly duped or recruited under false pretenses. Hopefully more of his peers will follow suit.

Next: Looking ahead to UGA's 2016 Recruits