Florida football pauses practice amid COVID-19 spike days after coach wanted to ‘pack The Swamp’

By Adam Silverstein
October 13, 2020
Florida football pauses practice amid COVID-19 spike days after coach wanted to ‘pack The Swamp’

Image Credit: UAA

Just 72 hours after head coach Dan Mullen publicly pressured the University of Florida administration to open Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at full capacity for his team’s next game, it may not be played at all. The No. 10 Florida Gators on Tuesday were forced to suspended all team activities due to a spike in positive COVID-19 cases within the program. After it was initially announced that there were five new positives among the team, the actual number late Tuesday increased to 19 new individuals who have contracted coronavirus, according to the Independent Florida Alligator and Associated Press.

“The University of Florida football team has experienced an increased in positive COVID tests among players this week. Out of an abundance of caution, team activities are paused as of Tuesday afternoon,” Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a statement. “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.”

The development immediately puts UF’s next scheduled game, Saturday at 4 p.m. ET against LSU, up in the air. The Tigers were supposed to visit the Gators in Gainesville, Florida.

There have already been 28 FBS games postponed or canceled this season for reasons related to COVID-19. The Missouri vs. Vanderbilt game, set to be played this week, is the latest to be postponed to an undetermined date. Florida and LSU do not sure a bye week, which would likely mean a Dec. 12 postponement if the game is unable to be played Saturday.

Looking for areas in which to place blame outside his team’s own performance after a 41-38 loss on Saturday at Texas A&M, Mullen pointed to the crowd at Kyle Field as a factor in Saturday’s game. The Aggies had under 25,000 fans in attendance, though they were loud when it counted late in the second half. Mullen went so far as to suggest the Gators completely open up The Swamp for this week’s game and pack it to full capacity, though no team in the state — college or professional — has given any indication they would even consider doing so despite Gov. Ron DeSantis allowing it statewide.

“Crowd was certainly a factor in the game, I’ll certainly say that. I know our governor passed that rule, so certainly, hopefully, the university administration decides to let us pack The Swamp for LSU next week,” Mullen said after the game. “One-hundred percent. Because that crowd was a major factor in the game, and so, I certainly hope our university administration follows the governor. Our governor has passed a rule that we are allowed to pack The Swamp … to give us that home-field advantage like Texas A&M had today.”

Mullen continued: “I want to see 90,000 in The Swamp. I don’t think the section behind our bench, I didn’t see an empty seat. It was packed. The entire student section, must’ve been 50,000 people behind our bench going crazy. Hopefully, that creates a home-field advantage for us next week because now we’ve passed a law in our state that we can do that.”

During his weekly press conference on Monday afternoon, Mullen was given multiple opportunities by the gathered media to address or even walk back his comments about packing The Swamp after Stricklin and UF president W. Kent Fuchs made it clear the Gators had no intention of increasing attendance at Florida Field amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic. Mullen refused to address whether he had give additional thought to his comments or had any regrets in making them, instead pointing to his being focused on preparing for the LSU game.

“Yeah, I’ve been preparing for LSU,” he said. “I’ll be honest. 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.”

After a follow-up question, Mullen stressed how much the atmosphere at Kyle Field helped Texas A&M in its game against Florida, something multiple Gators players said after the game was not much of a distraction while they were on the field. Hosting South Carolina two weeks ago, UF was left with 2,000 unsold tickets out of 17,000 made available for the public.

“Whatever our government officials all say and what everybody does for the game, what we do need to do is — however many people they allow into the stadium — we need to try to work as hard as we can [for] all the Gator fans and all of us to create the best game-day atmosphere we can.”

With team activities suspended at Florida and kickoff just four days away, even if the Gators are able to play, they will do so having likely missed multiple days of practice and instruction.

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