The Florida Gators mens basketball team has paused team actives, the school announced today. The pause is "due to positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing protocols" and will last one week.
This means the team will not be able to participate in this week's scheduled games vs. UMass Lowell and Virginia in the Mohegan Sun Tournament in Connecticut. Graham Hall of The Gainesville Sun first reported the news.
This is the third time this year the Gators basketball team has faced COVID issues. At one point this fall, the team had only five players for practice, as Head Coach Mike White shared with reporters on October 21.
"We've had issues, I can say that," White said at the time.
"Heck we had about 10 days there we've had five guys at practice, I want to say 8-10 consecutive days. I try to block it from my memory. It was nuts. But those five guys, we talked as a staff and it was funny. A few times during those 8-10 days we'd walk over to each other in a staff meeting during the practice and say, 'Boy, this five's not bad. This is a good group.' I don't know how many Division I games that this team could win with no subs, but they're getting after it. We had great chemistry then. We didn't have anybody complaining about playing time. We didn't have anybody complain about starting. Those guys got after it and they kind of held it together.
"UF Health and Duke Werner have been incredible with just trying to keep us afloat, help us navigating through this incredibly difficult time. It’s been nuts. It’s been really, really different.
"One of the things we haven’t talked about that just popped into my head is, one of the things that has held guys out — not necessarily a positive — and not necessarily a tracing situation but just a kid, you forget about colds, and flus, and viruses, and sniffles, and whatever. With any type of symptoms we’ve gotta do what we’ve gotta do and we’ve gotta isolate. We’ve had five or six missed practices just based on, ‘Coach, I’ve got a headache. Coach, I’ve got a runny nose and a sore throat.’ Then the next day they test negative, feel a lot better and you bring them back. It’s not COVID related. Last year they would have practiced.
"You add that to the equation and it makes for a lot of missed practices, a lot of missed time, lack of continuity. That’s where depth, some of the deeper teams in the country this year give themselves a chance potentially, just potentially, and, heck, I hope everyone has all their guys eligible to play every game but you just never know what’s around the corner. We’ve got two walk ons, they’ve got to be ready to play. All these guys got to be ready to contribute because you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Much of the predicted issues with playing college basketball this season is that games must be held inside, and during a time of year when flu cases spike as well, in addition to the predicted COVID spike that comes from people being inside more during the cold weather.
There is also the issue—related to being inside—that the virus can travel through air, and an air duct in a building with teams, staff and fans can create a Petri dish. The Gators are reducing their capacity for the season. Florida will have a capacity of 2,200 for the 2020-21 men's and women's basketball season, a number arrived at in consultation with UF Health officials. The Gators will also follow COVID-19 safety protocols established by the SEC Medical Guidance Task Force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Also in October, White also alluded to the challenges of planning for a season amidst uncertainty and being cautiously optimistic for the season.
"It seems like we spent the whole summer on Zoom. But you go through as a staff we went through some of the rollercoaster of emotions of what’s going on at times and whether we’ll be able to play. I can’t imagine how much more intensified it was for our student-athletes. And despite trying to stay ready and level-headed and doing what you can to prepare for a potential season and doubt - for really all of college basketball and probably everybody involved - would creep in, whether or not we will play, if so how abbreviated it would be and so on and so forth.
"Just knowing now that football has had some success, being able to watch some college football on TV, you get a schedule together, you get the NCAA telling you when you’re going to start. It’s exciting. It’s really an exciting time for all of us involved - let’s play some basketball.”
But for now, they won't be playing any basketball, at least not this week. Instead the Gators will look to tip off their season on December 2 versus Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma.