ELLIS COUNTY — National signing day is here.

With Wednesday comes the first day a recruit can formally commit to a college program and begin to carve a path to greatness. The first day in February also opens the doors of more than 2,600 accredited four-year colleges and universities in the United States and its outlying territories.

The sports multiverse rarely offers promises of fame, success or the road to both — regardless of the high-profile dossier owned by prep stars valued by ESPN's 300 or Yahoo Rivals' recruiting sites or the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches, Texas Girls Coaches Association or Texas Association of Soccer Coaches organizations.

While some prospective student-athletes, defined by the NCAA as a student who has started ninth grade classes, will receive full or partial offers from Division I and Division II schools, not every prep athlete will be so lucky. As of August 2015, however, all levels of NCAA collegiate athletes will have the opportunity to sign an National Letter of Intent — with a catch.

The trick is to know who's making the rules, what those catches are, what to do when your athlete gets ready to sign and what's required from every athlete that inks his or her name to a national letter.

GOVERNING BODY, WHEN TO SIGN

According to both the NCAA and National Letter of Intent websites, the NCAA manages the daily NLI operations while the Collegiate Commissioners Association (CCA) provides governance oversight of the program.

The NCAA breaks NLI signing dates into seven different periods. While basketball's early period is between Nov. 9 and Nov. 16, its regular period begins April 12 and ends either May 17 (DI) or Aug. 1 (DII). All other sports — except football and soccer — follow basketball's Nov. 9-Nov. 16 early signing periods.

Though soccer's early signing period follows basketball's trail and begins on Feb. 1, unlike football, its period ends Aug. 1. Football goes from Feb. 1 to April 1 and has a midyear junior college transfer exception between Dec. 14 and Jan. 15.

Signing an NLI outside the designated signing period renders the letter invalid. The player and his or her parent or legal guardian must sign the NLI and financial aid agreement within seven days of the issuance date noted on the document.

Though it's a binding agreement between a prospective student-athlete and the respective institution — which agrees to provide athletics financial aid for one academic year (two semesters or three quarters) — it's not mandatory to sign one.

WITH POWER COMES RESPONSIBILITY

Though no player is required to sign an NLI, once one does, there are a specific list of responsibilities attached if scholarships or funding are involved.

One of those responsibilities is once an NLI is signed, a prospective student-athlete can't choose another school without sitting out a full year and forfeiting a year of athletic eligibility. By signing, a player also agrees to attend the school listed for at least one academic year.

There are options outside signing, though, that can give athletes more time to decide on the collegiate home that best suits their needs or free them from being locked into a contractual obligation when and if a more suitable situation should arrive.

Though an NLI can guarantee a scholarship, it is contingent on the player being admitted to the school and staying below the scholarship limit. Though the numbers are multiplied by the more than 2,600 schools and NCAA FBS (85) and FCS (63) football scholarship levels are among the highest in regards to ceiling, other sports like baseball (11.7) and soccer (9.9) are much lower.

Their university of choice can also choose to terminate the commitment at any point between signing day and preseason camp, leaving the athlete with the bill and very serious decisions to make.

A player can sign a financial aid agreement and receive the same promise of tuition security as he or she would with a letter of intent, but the player doesn't have to forfeit the ability to go elsewhere without being released by the school.

CHANGE OF HEART

It's a normal human thing for a person to change his or her mind or get homesick and want to transfer to a school closer to home. If that person signed an NLI, however, there may be a waiting period before they can be homeward bound.

According to a 2015 article written by Sports Illustrated, universities can void the letter of intent if the players are notified in writing that admission has been denied, they fail to provide notice of entry before the start of classes in the fall semester or are academic non-qualifiers. The player — like all students — is obligated to go through the admission process, provide documents, must meet NCAA initial eligibility requirements and is responsible for enrolling with the NCAA Eligibility Center.

The penalty for not fulfilling the NLI agreement is that a student-athlete has to serve one year in residence (full-time, two semesters or three quarters) at his or her next college or university and forego a season of competition in all sports.

RECRUITMENT TRAIN HAS STOPS

A stipulation of the NLI program is preventing recruitment after prospective student-athletes sign their letter of intent.

According to NCAA bylaws, the NLI bans players from contact with other institutions. Per the document, other schools are obligated to respect a player's signing and shall cease contact with the athlete and his or her family members after signing the NLI. It also includes the athlete and/or family members not initiating contact with athletic staffs at other institutions.

This means that should Nick Saban and University of Alabama football, Jim McLaughlin and University of Notre Dame volleyball or Mike Krzyzewski and Duke University basketball come calling and your player's already signed with Baylor, Ohio State or Texas Christian Universities or the Universities of Florida, Houston or Southern California, those prestigious doors to year-in and year-out national title contenders are closed for at least a year.

Though there is no limit to how many schools the prospective student-athlete can speak with, the responsibility is on the players to notify the other coaches they have been in contact with throughout the recruitment process that they have signed with an institution.

Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.