Rules are Rules: Georgia dealing with recruiting limitations 9 years in the making
By Jaylon Thompson
Georgia pitcher Robert Tyler had to make a decision.
Tyler had two choices. His first option was the Baltimore Orioles. They selected him in the 50th round and had hopes of signing him. His second choice was the college baseball. As a top pitching prospect, he had several offers including one from the University of Georgia.
Georgia was his top choice. Tyler grew up in nearby Cordele, GA and was recruited by former head coach David Perno.
“Going into that, I kind of had a number in mind that I wanted to get or come to school,” Tyler said. They offered me a little bit less and I thought school might be the best option to come mature, learn a little bit about myself and pitching.”
He committed to Georgia after failing to sign with the Orioles. A short time after Tyler committed, Perno was fired. Tyler was left without a coach and other schools started contacting him again.
This was until he received a phone call. The caller was new Georgia coach Scott Stricklin. He called to introduce himself and to persuade Tyler to stay interested in the program.
“Stricklin was the first one to call me,” Tyler said. “He talked me through whole process and that coming here (UGA) would be a good decision. I didn’t know much about him and I put all my trust in him and it worked out.”
Tyler was not the only player called. Stricklin had to make sure that his players stayed in the system. This meant dealing with players that may have wanted to transfer or test the professional market. However, his biggest concern was having to deal with recruiting limits that made signing players difficult.
“The hardest thing any college baseball coach has to deal with is his roster management and how to deal with scholarships,” Stricklin said. “You don’t know which of your recruits are going to get drafted and signed. So, how can you say I am going to have 27 players on 11.7 scholarships the following year when I don’t know which of my juniors or seniors are getting drafted?.”
Recruiting in baseball can be very challenging. There are many things, like performance, skill, positional strength, and need that go into deciding which players will be on scholarships. A lot of collegiate teams struggle to allocate the scholarship money effectively. This has caused several teams to develop a strategy of finding and keeping talent. The reason for these strategies derive from a recent NCAA legislation trend.
In 2007, the NCAA started investigating student-athletes performance inside the classroom. Using the Academic Performance Rates (APR) created in 2003, the NCAA was able to see whether teams were meeting the 930 minimum APR score. The score calculates which athletes were retained or graduated on time each year.
In an ESPN article, Mark Schlabach wrote that 112 collegiate programs didn’t meet minimum standard score required in 2007. Out of those programs, one-quarter of them were baseball programs. Since many teams failed, the NCAA took action. The NCAA placed scholarship regulations on all collegiate baseball teams.
So in 2009, NCAA made it official. Scholarships came with a cost, one that all teams had to share. In Georgia’s case, this meant a change in its recruiting strategy. As a result, Georgia rarely searches for a star recruit.
“There are times that we will go watch a player and come back and say that he is too good—meaning that there are probably 30 teams that want to sign this kid.” Stricklin said.
Instead, Georgia’s main goal was to find players that fit their system. The idea is to avoid scholarship violations by not over-recruiting.Georgia will particularly search for 12-14 players in positions of need.
One example of this is 2015, when the team signed several pitchers like freshman Kevin Smith and Shane Tucker. They were signed to replace Ryan Lawlor and Sean McLaughlin, who got drafted, in the rotation.
In order to find the right player, Georgia does a lot of extensive research. The team not only gets to know the player but their entire family. This helps them in making sure that a recruit is a high-character guy.
The recruiting strategy has worked in recent years. The school has steadily improved in recruiting classes under Stricklin. According to the PerfectGame, Georgia’s recruiting classes have improved from 23rd in 2013 to the 13th best for the 2016 season. It placed them sixth in the SEC behind programs like Florida and Vanderbilt.
The HOPE Scholarship is another strategy Georgia uses to overcome recruiting restrictions. Georgia uses HOPE to offset some of the financial tuition needed to attend classes. HOPE covers around 3,000 dollars for tuition. This helps the student-athlete offset costs for tuition, room and board and books.
“It plays a big role and it is the reason why we have so many Georgia players on our team,” Recruiting coordinator Scott Daeley said. “It allows us to spread our scholarships to the 27 players. It averages out to about 40% per player. So, the HOPE helps keep some of the out-of-pocket costs down.”
Along with HOPE, Georgia now has access to multi-year scholarships in the SEC. Passed in 2014, schools can now sign a player and be assured that the scholarship stays with the player for up to four years.
According to expert Jim Callis, the new multi-year scholarships are still relatively new and the effects are still unknown. He sees it as another thing for coaches to have to deal with in recruiting.
“I think that teams are going to have to manage their scholarships a little more carefully,” Callis said. There are so few scholarships and few players that you could over-recruit and that becomes a problem.”
While Georgia has recruited well, the team hasn’t lived up to the rankings on the field. Last season, Georgia went 26-28 and this season the team is struggling once again. With several juniors and seniors, Georgia could lose more than just games.
In the upcoming seasons, Georgia stands to lose Tyler and Wrenn to the draft. However, Stricklin said he has a plan in place and that includes a few signed players for 2017.
The class features several pitchers and four top-100 players to fill the void. While losing the upperclassmen is possible, Stricklin encourages them to go pro.
“I would prefer our juniors be drafted high enough to go,” Stricklin said. “That means that they have good enough and have developed. That is going to establish a tradition here and the next group of kids are going to want to come.”