The current COVID-19 pandemic caused the NCAA to make a special exception this year by not counting this season against its student-athletes.
This means that regardless of if an athlete competed or opted-out this season, they won’t have wasted a year of eligibility in these unprecedented times. Furthermore, it allows seniors to return next year and those who do won’t count against their program’s 85 scholarship limit in 2021.
Georgia currently has 15 seniors that could possibly stay, although the chances of that happening are very slim because six of them already have accepted invitations to the Reece’s Senior Bowl. For those who take advantage of the NCAA’s waiver, that could cause some problems that are relative to the 2021 recruiting cycle, especially to those players that want to enroll early.
Nevertheless, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said that he expects as many as 20 incoming recruits to enroll early, which could be a problem.
“You assume those guys are going to be gone, but they’ve got the flexibility to come back,” Smart said on Tuesday. “That’s great. That’s the right thing to do. I think that’s super, but trying to make decisions for your organization mid-year is a different circumstance.”
Smart knows that seniors are the backbone of the program, but those who may decide to stay an extra year will cause a major backlog.
“Let’s say we have five mid-years, which isn’t the case at all,” Smart said, but let’s say we have five that want to come. We have to have a spot for every one of them to come, so for every senior who elects to stay, we don’t have a mid-year spot. So, even though [seniors] won’t count towards the 85, we don’t have a spot for (mid-years) to come.”
This isn’t a problem for Georgia, but more of a situation that every program could go through in the offseason. Due to the rescheduling of games, the regular season has been extended to past mid-December. Georgia will face Missouri this weekend, which was originally scheduled for November. The Bulldogs will host Vanderbilt next Saturday on Dec. 19 as that contest was supposed to be played this past weekend.
Because of all this, it cause could draft-eligible players (seniors and juniors alike) to hold off on their decisions. What doesn’t help the cause is that the start of the early signing period starts next week on Dec. 16, which is three days before Georgia plays Vanderbilt.
“We don’t really control which seniors stay, and we’ll certainly give them the flexibility,” Smart said. “But if we have more mid-years that want to come than seniors who want to leave, we have a problem. I don’t think all the things mesh really well, especially if you’re a program that has a shot at a lot of mid-years.”
This certainly is a frustrating time for Smart and his staff because they have spent countless hours with recruits via phone or Zoom calls. The NCAA mandated that there’s currently no official visits or face-to-face interactions between recruits or coaches due to the pandemic. So, the last thing these coaching staffs want to do is turn around and tell a recruit there’s no room for them in the spring.
A lot of high schools around the country are doing virtual learning and a portion of them aren’t having a fall football season. Georgia commit Brock Bowers hasn’t even played a down this year because the state of California elected to have a spring football season. According to ScoreBookLive.com, California high schools can start padded practices on Dec. 14 with games starting in January 2021. So, players like Bowers might want to go ahead and enroll early once they sign their letter of intent.
“We’re looking at the possibility of anywhere from 14 to 20 mid-year enrollees,” Smart said. “Let’s say we have 20 mid-year enrollees who want to come—we don’t have 20 spots. Yet the seniors won’t count next year, but they’re eating spots right now. It just doesn’t add up. It doesn’t make perfect sense, so it’s a dilemma we have to deal with. You also have programs that have juniors, so you don’t know about juniors who haven’t declared yet, but we’re having a signing date before the juniors declare.”
Smart did point out the flaws in the NCAA’s plans.
“We’ve been saying for a while that the timing just isn’t accurate, and it really causes some mismanagement,” Smart said. “The people who suffer are the high school kids who may be told one thing, and then someone says, ‘Well, I thought you could be here, but maybe you can’t be here.’ It just depends on the number of spots you have.”
Although Smart doesn’t want to blame the NCAA because a bulk of it should be placed on COVID. The fifth-year head coach said that the organization has been very clear, but it’s just a frustrating time in general.
“They’ve been in communication in terms of the seniors being given another year of eligibility,” Smart said. “That’s why, to them, it doesn’t matter, because the seniors don’t count. They’re not factoring in that (seniors) do count for spring, and it removes a spot. Look, I’d love every senior back. Seniors are the most valuable parts of your team. I’d love to have every one of them back, but not knowing is what’s tough.”
According to 247Sports, Georgia currently has the No. 3 ranked class with 20 commits before Early Signing Day. Those commits include, five-stars: Amarius Mims, Brock Vandagriff and Smael Mondon. Four-stars include: Micah Morris, Nyland Green, David Daniel, Dylan Fairchild, Bowers, Lovasea Carroll, Jonathan Jefferson, Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins, Jamon Dumas-Johnson, Kamari Lassiter, De’Jahn Warren and Chaz Chambliss. Three-stars include: Adonai Mitchell, Jared Wilson, Marlin Dean, Javon Bullard and Jackson Meeks.
Here is the video from Smart’s Tuesday presser: