Florida Gators Suspend Football Activities Amidst COVID Spike. Was It Inevitable? What Happens Next?
Updated: Jan 16
*This post has been updated to include new information
The Florida Gators Football team is pausing all football related actives, effective Tuesday, October 13. The decision will be reevaluated on Wednesday and Saturday’s game against LSU, while not cancelled, has been put into question.
The decision, handed down by Athletic Director Scott Stricklin, comes on the heels of a spike in positive COVID-19 cases among Gator football players. In a release to reporters, Stricklin said the following.
“The University of Florida football team has experienced an increase in positive COVID tests among players this week. Out of an abundance of caution, team activities are paused as of Tuesday afternoon.
Head coach Dan Mullen has been in communication with football players and their parents, and I have had conversations with the Southeastern Conference office, last week’s opponent Texas A&M, and this week’s opponent LSU.
These circumstances will be re-evaluated by UF Health and the athletic department’s sports medicine staff Wednesday.”
Texas A&M Athletic Director Ross Bjork released a statement after the news, saying “we have been in touch with officials at the University of Florida and have also reviewed the available data from the Kinexon contact tracing system deployed by the SEC. At this point, there has been no impact within our football program, but we will continue our regular testing regiment this week and stay diligent with all of our safety protocols.”
Earlier Tuesday afternoon, in what has become a weekly release, the UAA announced five new football players had tested positive based on test results data available as of Monday, October 12.
Last Tuesday, there were seven cases but that included six that had tested positive in September. Therefore the six positive cases announced today from test administered in October included five new cases.
Recent reports state the number might actually be much higher, 19 total according to the student newspaper “The Alligator."
GatorBait has been able to confirm as of Tuesday evening, the official number is still at five new cases, although additional test are being given and that number is expected to rise significantly in the next 24 hours. GatorBait has also learned from sources close to the program that while some cases have been symptomatic, there have been none as of yet that appear worrisome.
Players who test positive are put into quarantine for at least 10 days.
The athletes are tested a minimum of three times a week and additional test will now be administered to weed out what some believe is initial false positives. Saturday’s game against LSU will be dependent on those results.
Florida is one of the few schools that had warded off a spike in cases until now, thanks in large part to the help of near-by UF Health Shands.
On Monday, Mullen told local reporters, “I think if you look at what we've been able to do, the safety precautions we have that our players have followed, our coaches follow, our staff follows, you know, I think we're a model of safety of what we've been doing during this time period. So, I'm really proud of how we've handled everything and how safe we've been with everything we're doing and all the precautions we've had in place during this time.”
Monday evening, senior defensive lineman Zach Carter echoed his coaches statements. Carter—along with three others—initially set out the beginning of fall practice, demanding better protocols and additional testing. Carter in particular felt passionate about the move after losing a family friend to COVID-19 over the summer.
“The biggest thing for me is you know, I'm one of the leaders in my position group, and I feel like I just had to make sure you know, our protocols were in place and, you know, this was the safest environment to be,” Carter explained to reporters.
“I think as a team, I think we've really done a good job overall, because we really, I mean everybody's gonna have positives, but I think we did it. I think we've done a great job of limiting the positives as much as we can. And guys, you know, guys are actually taking care of themselves and stand on top of, so it's a good thing to see.”
Asked if he feels safer now than he did during the summer, Carter replied, “yeah. I mean it's a great environment. Everybody feels safe and comfortable.”
However all of this news comes just days after Mullen made a public request for more than the approved 17,000 fans to be allowed into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday for the scheduled Florida vs. LSU game. Mullen’s comments were understandably met with critiscim, after he opined that given the declaration from Governor Desantis allowing stadiums in Florida to operate at full capacity and, “let us pack the Swamp against LSU … 100 percent, because that crowd was a major factor in the game [versus Texas A&M].
“I certainly hope our university administration follows the governor. The governor has passed a rule that we’re allowed to pack the Swamp and have 90,000 in the Swamp to give us the home-field advantage Texas A&M had [Saturday].”
The Texas A&M student section exhibited little to no social distancing in a raucous crowd that called back to comments Mullen made all summer, stating the SEC needed to set a conference wide standard for crowd sizes and protocols. The anger over the non-uniformity and most likely the loss as well exhibited itself in the comments in direct disagreement with health officials including those at Florida and UF Health.
In fact, Florida and UF Health have been at the front of the pack in setting and following COVID protocols and creating a safe environment for the players. The spike occurring shortly after Mullen’s comments is somewhat post hoc ergo proctor hoc.
Nevertheless, the inevitable spike that has seemingly touched every team at some point has now made its way to Gainesville. Stay tuned to GatorBait Magazine for the latest and most in-depth coverage of this developing story.