The Southeastern Conference did Tuesday what had been expected the last few days. It pulled the plug on all spring sports through the end of the semester in the nation's continuing efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
That includes all UGA spring sports -- and, of course, Georgia football. Though football is a fall sport, the Georgia Bulldogs originally were scheduled to begin spring practice on Tuesday. The 15-practice session was slated to end with the annual G-Day game on April 18.
All that has been eliminated and there's no plan to make up anything. The question now turns to whether preseason camp will get under way on time in early August or if there will be a football season at all.
“It would really be irresponsible to predict what is going to happen with football right now,” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said shortly after the SEC's announcement.
President Donald Trump, in his national address Monday night, mentioned that measures to contain the pandemic could continue into July or August. The Bulldogs, who are expected to be a top-5 team again this season, are scheduled to open preseason camp the first week of August. The season opener against Virginia is set for Sept. 7 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
McGarity said he spent an hour on an SEC teleconference call on Tuesday and another hour participating in a teleconference call with the LEAD1 Association, a national group with representation among all Division 1 athletic directors. The SEC ADs have been conferring on a daily afternoon call and that will continue, McGarity said.
“We're learning new information every day and we're finding out decisions that we make at the moment could change just in a matter of minutes,”McGarity said. “So we're taking it day-by -day and just dealing with each situation as it arises.”
For the time being, all sports activities have been canceled through the end of spring semester. UGA classes end on April 28 and final exams are scheduled May 1-6.
The writing was already on the wall when UGA made the decision Tuesday to limit classes to online only for the rest of the semester. The SEC already had shut down all sports activities through April 15. That followed an NCAA directive that canceled all of its winter-sports championships, including the annual March Madness tournaments for men’s and women’s basketball, gymnastics, indoor track, equestrian and men’s and women’s swimming and diving. UGA was slated to host equestrian and swimming.
Since then, spring-sports teams were informed by the NCAA that no post-season championships would be conducted. That effectively shut down Georgia’s No. 2-ranked baseball team, along with women’s softball, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s golf and outdoor track and field. The Bulldogs were considered championship contenders in most of those sports.
The lack of sports activities or events is starting to take an emotional toll, McGarity said.
“We're really giving up the ability to be a team, to feel like a team, to meet face-to-face and interact with each other on a personal basis,” he said. “So much of this, the decisions we've had to make, has been so impersonal. You're depending on conference calls, video conferencing, emails, texts. Everything is so impersonal. I know we all miss the gatherings and being able to see each other and spend time with each for a common cause. Being isolated like this, I don't think any of us will take that for granted again.”
In the meantime, there is a considerable amount of logistics to tend to in the wake of the decision. While UGA students have been directed to remain off campus, that's not possible for a small population of Georgia's athletes and students. Some are from other countries and others may not have the means or ways to leave.
Those individuals are permitted to stay and McGarity said the athletic department is able to continue to provide care in the form of food and medical treatment. No one, however, is permitted to use UGA facilities for training.
Also, the NCAA has already decided that seniors whose spring seasons were interrupted due to the shutdown will be granted another year of eligibility. How that might work with scholarship limitations and other concerns is still being worked out, McGarity said.
“Everything is new,” McGarity said. “It's our hope that everything returns to some sense of normalcy. But when that happens, no one knows. Right now all we can focus on is listening and following the guidelines and the mandates that are going out throughout the country and locally.”
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