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Column: Saving College Football Is Possible, But UF Students Must Do Their Part

I can’t be alone here. 

I yearn for a college football season in 2020 — just like thousands of college students across the country. 

Like them, a major part of my “college experience” stems from what takes place on Saturdays in the fall. The reality is, those who say that college will be the best four years of your life are those who spent their Saturdays in the stands. 

College isn’t college without college football. 

The sport celebrated 150 years last season. In 1918, it survived World War I in tandem with the Spanish flu. Disrupted, maybe. But not canceled. 

Meanwhile, for months, college football has teetered on the cusp of life and death in 2020. In some parts of the country, it’s already died. 

In other parts, like the Southeast, pulling the plug isn’t an option. 

Greg Sankey, commissioner of the SEC, and his ACC and Big 12 counterparts have kept the college football season on life support. Holding on to hope, if you will. 

And to date, it seems that recovery is possible. 

On Tuesday, Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen announced that his football program has seen zero positive Covid-19 tests since early-July. 

“We gotta be smart in our decision making, we gotta be smart in what we do,” Mullen told the media Tuesday. “We’ve shown that playing football is safe, now we have to make smart decisions when we’re not playing football.”

Mullen’s comment came just hours after the University of Alabama reported over 500 positive tests following the university’s opening week of the fall semester. 

Before Alabama’s announcement, photos from Tuscaloosa and Auburn circulated social media. 

College-aged students crammed into bars and restaurants. And finding a mask in the picture was like an unfair game of iSpy — in some pictures, there weren’t any. 

And while seeing fellow football-loving college students act in such a selfish way was frustrating, I was curious to know if my peers at the University of Florida would be any different. 

With classes starting August 31, many students began returning to campus this last week. And on Wednesday night, I made the drive from Ocala to Gainesville to take a look at the college scene in Alachua County. 

My 441 drive from Ocala to Gainesville is probably one of my favorite trips. 

Getting into Gainesville means crossing over the two-mile stretch of Payne’s Prairie. During the school year, I’ll leave my house earlier than needed just to catch the sunrise views over the prairie. 

And everyone knows the sunsets are just as breathtaking. 

Every evening locals park on the right-of-way of 441 and sit atop their cars to watch the sun drop into the vast marsh. 

Wednesday night was no different. 

Hundreds of cars lined the highway, hugging the fence line that separates the wildlife from civilization. 

College friends who haven’t seen each other for months grouped together, mask-less, to take in the scenery. 

Once on campus, the social distancing efforts weren’t any better. 

Soccer, volleyball, corn hole and football were played on the rec fields. And no one wants to wear a mask while exercising — even if you’re exercising in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. 

I slid into The Swamp on three wheels, making it into Gate 18 three minutes before closing time. 

An empty Swamp isn’t a happy Swamp. Courtesy of Ainslie Lee

Meanwhile, everyone else was funneling out of the stadium. 

Seeing the home of the Florida Gators’ football program double as a gym and photo opportunity for students on Wednesday evening was concerning in the most ironic of ways. 

If not careful, a gym and photo opportunity will be the only purposes Ben Hill Griffin Stadium serves this fall. 

To avoid that, what transpired at midtown when I grabbed dinner has to be done with caution. 

Every student at UF knows that the Social at Midtown is the place to be on a Wednesday night. 

With five dollar macaroni and cheese and five dollar “liquor pitchers”, the Social makes a good chunk of change come hump day. And its rooftop bar is the place to be. 

Except, I couldn’t get to the rooftop. Not because it was closed in wake of Covid-19, but because it was at capacity. 

Downstairs, state regulations were closely followed. There was appropriate spacing between tables, employees were wearing masks and alcohol could be served only to a table. 

The part of me that strives to find the good in people is the same part of me that gives students and the Social the benefit of the doubt. 

Perhaps social distancing measures were being followed. 

Yet, seeing the number of students get frustrated when they were denied access upstairs tells me the mentality of Florida’s student body isn’t where it needs to be as we get ready to start the fall semester on Monday. 

I have great faith in UF’s leadership.

University President Kent Fuchs has been tireless in his efforts to bring students back to campus in the safest way possible. And that’s to be expected from the leader of the seventh-ranked public university in the nation. 

But it isn’t solely the leader that makes UF a top college in the country. It’s the student body too. 

And if ever there was a time to lead by example, it’s now. 

But I can’t be alone here. 

Despite months of everyone preaching isolation, we can’t stand alone now.

As we return to classes Monday, the sake of college football, for the sake of the health of us all and for the sake of the orange and blue, please act responsibly. 

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