Dugout photo

The Bulldogs clear the dugout after the game. The Georgia Bulldogs fell to the Georgia Southern Eagles 6-3 on Tuesday, March 3, 2020 at Foley Field in Athens, Georgia. The Bulldogs will again face the Eagles in Augusta on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. (Photo/Ryan Cameron rcameron@randb.com)

On a normal Monday during baseball season, Scott Daeley would be sitting in the bleachers watching the best high school baseball game he could find within driving distance.

Georgia’s hitting coach and recruiting coordinator tried to catch at least one high school game each week. When the Bulldogs had a weekend series on the road, Daeley spurned the team bus for a trip in his car. On the way to Florida, he tried finding a game in South Georgia. On the way to Vanderbilt, he liked stopping in North Georgia.

Daeley’s recruiting trips are now on hold, and the future of Georgia baseball’s roster is in limbo.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellations of professional, college and high school games. In response to the crisis, the NCAA extended its in-person recruiting ban through May 31. It also allowed schools to grant an extra year of eligibility to spring sport athletes.

Georgia baseball plans to offer eligibility relief to the players who want it, Daeley said. The uncertainty surrounding players’ decisions, along with the inability to evaluate recruits, will make it difficult to manage the team’s roster, Daeley said.

“It’s always a juggling act with us as far as how many incoming guys we take on,” he said. “We’re a long ways away from knowing exactly where we’re going to be scholarship-wise.”

Baseball is the only Division I spring sport with a roster limit. It also has just 11.7 scholarships to distribute among 27 scholarship players.

The NCAA won’t enforce the normal roster limit of 35 players next season due to COVID-19. Each player over the limit must be taking advantage of the eligibility relief.

As of press time, Georgia seniors Cam Shepherd, Patrick Sullivan, Logan Moody and Justin Glover haven’t decided if they will return. Moody and Glover are trying to decide if they want to enter the workforce, pitching coach Sean Kenny said.

“My feelings based on our conversations were one day they want to come back, and the next day, they wake up and they’re not sure,” Kenny said.

Seventeen other players are eligible to leave for the professional ranks, further complicating Georgia’s roster management. Major League Baseball teams can select redshirt sophomores and juniors (and this year, seniors) who might have been expected to return to college. They can also draft and sign high school seniors who were committed to play in college.

The 2020 MLB Draft was shortened from 40 rounds to as little as five rounds due to financial concerns connected with COVID-19. A deal between the MLB and the player’s association also capped signing bonuses for undrafted free agents at $20,000.

Georgia will have to wait longer than normal to figure out which players are returning. MLB’s signing deadline will be as late as Aug. 1. Last year, it was July 12.

Kenny said the rule changes won’t have an effect on next year’s recruiting class, which has 16 commits according to Prep Baseball Report. Future recruiting classes will likely be smaller.

“You kind of have to wait and see what your own roster looks like,” Kenny said. “We just don’t know.”

A proposed transfer rule that would allow athletes to compete immediately after their first transfer would add another wrinkle to the situation.

If the Division I Council votes to remove the requirement in May, a wave of transfers would likely ensue. Players are already more incentivized to transfer since rosters will be deeper and more experienced with the eligibility relief granted in the wake of COVID-19.

“[The proposed transfer rule] will play a huge role in how rosters are managed moving forward,” Daeley said. “I think it’s good for the players. Some of them end up in situations they didn’t expect to be in.”

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