Before National Letter of Intent there were conference letters of intent
In 1971, Jamie Quirk was a Parade All-American quarterback out of Whittier, Calif., and coveted by almost every college coach in the country. Pat Haden and Vince Ferragamo were star Southern California prep quarterbacks around the same time, and some thought Quirk was better than both of them, which is why all the West Coast schools courted him, as did powerhouses like Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Nebraska and others.
By today's standards, Quirk's recruitment was tame. He endured nothing like what more contemporary Southern California quarterbacks such as Jimmy Clausen, Matt Barkley or, most recently, Ricky Town, have faced. Yet Quirk and his parents were worn down enough by the constant courting that Quirk did something extraordinary:
He signed four letters of intent.
It may have been more, actually. Quirk cannot say for certain, as the finer points have been lost in the more than 40 years since he was a high school senior. Yet his actions remains remarkable nonetheless, and something that could never happen today as the NCAA has moved to a single, binding National Letter of Intent.
"It was a long time ago, but the thinking was that my parents and I we were tired of all the attention and we wanted to save [the coaches] time and my time, and so that is how we narrowed the pool where I wanted to go," says Quirk.
You would have to be a fan of a certain vintage or know your NCAA history to understand how Quirk could have done what he did. As college football exploded in popularity in the late 1940s, recruiting battles became fierce; some coaches pursued players even after they were enrolled at another college. To combat this, some conferences created nonbinding letters of intent that included an important clause: Once a player signed with one conference school, all the others in that conference had to stop recruiting him.
It had the desired effect, as it limited intra-conference poaching, but it didn't stop schools from outside the conference. So, representatives from seven conferences, led by Texas Tech professor J. William Davis, gathered in 1964 and created the National Letter of Intent that remains in use today.
But conference letters of intent still existed in 1971, Quirk's senior season at St. Paul High in Sante Fe Springs, Calif. When schools from the Pacific-8 Conference began pursuing him in earnest, he put a stop to it by signing a conference letter of intent with Washington. When he tired of all the attention from coaches at Big Eight Conference schools, he signed with Colorado. ("I think I did that to slow Nebraska down," Quirk says. "They were really coming after me.") He signed with Wisconsin to freeze the other Big Ten Conference programs, and he may also have signed with Rice (he visited the school but cannot recall if he signed with them). If he did, it was likely to halt the other aggressive pursuers from the Southwest Conference.
When National Signing Day rolled around, Quirk surprised the schools that had gotten an earlier signature when his final letter of intent, this one the binding National Letter of Intent, was signed and sent to Notre Dame. "Some schools were disappointed by that," Quirk says.
But in a fitting addendum to his story, Quirk never played college football. He was a first-round pick of the Kansas City Royals in 1972, and he spurned Notre Dame to sign a professional baseball contract. "I called [Notre Dame] coach [Ara] Parseghian after the draft and told him what was going on, and he said, 'Make sure you make the right decision.' Some weeks went by and we were negotiating with the Royals, and decided with my parents to go with baseball," Quirk says. "I called Notre Dame, told them and they weren't real happy. It wasn't like 'good luck.' It was like, 'You might be making the wrong decision.'"
It wasn't. Quirk played in the majors until 1992, appearing for eight different teams. Then he got into coaching, working last season for the Chicago Cubs. This season he will manage the Lake Elsinore (Calif.) Storm, a minor league affiliate of the San Diego Padres.
Not long after Quirk began his baseball career, conference letters of intent went the way of the leather helmet. The binding National Letter of Intent made them obsolete. The modern equivalent of what Quirk did is probably a recruit announcing a list of finalists, but that doesn't stop programs from continuing to pursue a player, which is what made the conference letters of intent so effective.
Says Quirk: "It was great. I signed them and everything just kind of stopped."