Gators' Dan Mullen deflects questions about filling the Swamp during coronavirus pandemic

Mullen was asked repeatedly Monday about his previous request to put 90,000 people in Florida’s football stadium this weekend. He didn’t elaborate much.
Don't expect crowds like this at the Florida Gators' Ben Hill Griffin Stadium anytime soon.
Don't expect crowds like this at the Florida Gators' Ben Hill Griffin Stadium anytime soon. [ Times ]
Published Oct. 12, 2020

Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen hasn’t retracted his comments about filling Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to capacity this weekend, but he isn’t pushing them forward, either.

After Saturday’s 41-38 last-second loss at Texas A&M, Mullen praised the loud crowd at Kyle Field and said it was a “major factor in the game.” Mullen said he hoped UF’s administration would open up Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to its capacity —officially 88,548 — as Gov. Ron DeSantis moves the state into Phase 3 of reopening.

But Mullen said Monday in his weekly news conference that he has not discussed the issue with athletic director Scott Stricklin.

“I’ve been worried about trying to beat LSU,” Mullen said.

Related: This is who the Florida Gators are: A great offense with a defense that keeps failing them.

When asked whether he regretted his statement or whether he has spoken to UF President Kent Fuchs about lifting the attendance restriction, Mullen reiterated that he has been focused on trying to beat the defending national champions.

“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,” Mullen said. “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.”

Mullen drew widespread criticism over the weekend following his comments about packing The Swamp during the coronavirus pandemic. He said Monday that he wasn’t aware of the backlash because, you guessed it, he has been focused on trying to beat LSU.

Mullen did, however, reiterate his praise for the “great atmosphere” the Aggies created with an announced crowd of 24,709.

Texas A&M's Corps of Cadets helped create a loud environment for the Aggies on Saturday.
Texas A&M's Corps of Cadets helped create a loud environment for the Aggies on Saturday. [ SAM CRAFT | AP ]

“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 — all the Gator fans and all of us — to create the best game-day atmosphere we can,” Mullen said.

The Gators limited capacity to about 17,000 for their Oct. 10 home opener against South Carolina, although the announced attendance was 15,120. There’s no indication UF plans to change its policies.

On Sunday, Fuchs said via Twitter that UF remains committed to following CDC guidelines “for every part of our campus from classrooms to athletic venues,” and that those guidelines include social distancing.

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The type of physical distancing that would not be possible in a jam-packed stadium.

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