By KASSIDY HILL
University of Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin in conjunction with the Southeastern Conference announced today—Friday March 13—that “all organized team activities, including competitions, team and individual practices, meetings and other organized gatherings, will be suspended through Apr. 15. The SEC had previously announced all competition was suspended through Mar. 30.”
The Florida football team was set to begin practice on Monday, March 16. As of now that is simply postponed until the aforementioned April 15th date. However, that date is still in flux according to Stricklin.
“We had put April 15 out as a date to work towards; my sense is that’s probably optimistic. I’m not an expert but based on what we’re told here on campus, we probably need to expect potentially that could go longer and we’re just gonna have to be prepared for that…things aren’t going to be normal for a little while. They’re going to get normal again. I hope April 15 is right on, that would be exciting news for everybody. I just think we have to prepare ourselves that it may be beyond that.
“Most important thing is we as a society, as a community and as a university, take the steps necessary to protect our young people, protect our staff and our coaches and protect our fans and the people who love watching our young people compete and that’s why we’re trying to take these steps and do that.
Spring football itself will also be in flux as Stricklin said there is no one certain plan right now to either postpone or cancel altogether. Football student athletes are on campus throughout summer as well, giving the calendar more flexibility says Stricklin.
“I would say at this point [spring football is] in flux. Obviously we’re not going to go through normal spring ball as we had scheduled and we’re probably not going to have a spring game on April 18. Beyond that, we’re not in a position to make definitive comments.
“You want everyone to have as much preparation as possible for the season and you want everybody to be as equitable as possible with how much preparation they have. As long as those two things are in place, we can figure out when that happens.”
The NBA canceled the remainder of its season on Wednesday, March 11. The next morning, the NCAA postponed the Men and Women’s basketball tournament before then canceling the remainder of spring and summer games and championships for all NCAA sports. The SEC at that time was still allowing schools to make decisions on organized team activities such as practices, workouts and more. Stricklin says as the Gators mens basketball team was preparing to take the floor for a tournament game against the Georgia Bulldogs, he and his staff began to see the disproportionate response and change their mindset.
“In the last 24-48 hours, this whole process has gone from 'how can we play some games' to ‘what do we need to do to take immediate steps to buffet ourselves for what is about to happen with the spread of COVID-19' and when you change that mindset, when you flip that from figuring out how you play games, whether it’s with no fans in the stands or whatever, to ‘how can we help our society and our communities get through this as quickly as possible,’ you start taking totally different approaches.”
Following the SEC mandate on Friday, Florida is electing to not only close practices but the majority of the athletic areas (locker rooms, weight rooms, practice facilities, etc). The Hawkins Center for academics and the training room will be the only things to remain open during this time. The University of Florida—which began preparing for possible coronavirus spreads as far back as February 6 according to Stricklin—will have all classes online by Monday till at least March 30.
Within the SEC, since spring sports are at this time simply postponed, there is logistically an opportunity for a shortened, truncated season. However Stricklin reveals that after speaking with coaches, he doesn’t know if that’s the best option.
“[Softball coach] Tim Walton sent me a text last night. He had talked to some of his seniors. He said they felt like if there was an opportunity to get their senior year back -- which I know the NCAA is taking some steps along those lines today -- they came here to win national championships, not to play a truncated, partial season. They would rather wait and have the opportunity to come back and do that as opposed to trying to power through.”
The Gators baseball team is currently ranked No. 1 in the country, softball is No. 7, gymnastics is No. 2, mens track and field is No. 2, women’s track and field is No. 11, lacrosse is No. 7, the men’s basketball team was a projected nine seed in March Madness and the women’s basketball team had a postseason chance as well.
The NCAA announced on Friday that they would allow an extra year for spring sport athletes who will now miss the majority of their seasons and championships. Stricklin would like to see that extended to winter sport athletes as well.
“I may be in the minority here. I think any senior who had a championship opportunity taken away because of this should get another year. I don’t know if the NCAA will take that up, like they should the spring sports. But you have track athletes, you have gymnasts, you have swimmers and divers, and basketball that what they worked for all year was taken away. I think we should give those kids another year. Whether that happens or not I don’t know.”
Stricklin did say he will push for this to be allowed.
The UAA employs 370 hourly workers and as Stricklin says, “candidly, that’s our top concern: those 370 people, many of which are hourly employees. How do we continue to make them whole?”
In another candid moment, Stricklin admits that the revenue from spring sports, while welcome, isn’t a hugely significant number. The hit will come from the cancelation of the SEC and NCAA Tournament. However, “there’s a lot of cynicism about college athletics and that decisions are made for financial reasons. I can tell you the decisions that were made this week by and large the financial ramifications really were no consideration.”
While the world hits pause for a few weeks, the student athletes at University of Florida are hitting pause on their entire career. That is what Scott Stricklin says hurts the most, even when doing the right thing.
"They invest a lot of time and effort and energy in being in a position to compete against the very best and have a chance to be successful. Through no fault of their own, no fault of any of us, that’s been taken from them. The psychology of an athlete is always working toward something. They woke up this morning and there was nothing to work toward. That’s a hard thing to process. In addition to great sports health programs, we have great mental health services. We’re probably going to have to really engage those with our student-athletes because I imagine a lot of them are going to be processing this for several weeks to come.”