Here's how important national letters of intent are in the recruiting process: you can't just sign one whenever you want.
The NCAA has specific time periods in place for inking such important agreements. They vary by sport, and there are a lot of sports. So it's easy for recruits to commit to a school but really have no idea when they're supposed to sign their letter of intent to make it official.
Here is a breakdown of when national letters of intent are signed for athletes wanting to earn a scholarship for the 2009-10 school year, according to the NCAA website:
Basketball (regular period): April 15-May 20, 2009
Football (mid-year junior college transfers): Dec. 17, 2008-Jan. 15, 2009
Football (regular period): Feb. 4-April 1, 2009
All Other Sports (early period): Nov. 12-19, 2008
All Other Sports (regular period): April 8-Aug. 1, 2009
The coaches of most sports seemed satisfied with the calendar in place, but there are discussions of implementing an early-signing period for high school football recruits. In recent years, football prospects have committed, decommitted, recommitted, decommitted and committed elsewhere, filling all the time they have to make a decision before February.
One Division I coach told me he uses 25 percent of his recruiting budget "babysitting" recruits, or visiting recruits who have already committed to make sure they don't stray.
Nothing is imminent, though, so the dates in place will be a good forecast of years to come.