No. 10 Florida will not play defending national champion LSU on Saturday and has paused all football-related activities indefinitely after the program reported a significant spike in positive coronavirus tests for players and staffers, it announced Wednesday.
The game has tentatively been rescheduled for Dec. 12, a conference-wide open date one week before the SEC Championship Game.
Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin said 18 scholarship players and three walk-ons have tested positive. At least two coaches and support staffers have also tested positive. All have either been asymptomatic or experienced only mild symptoms.
Because of players who have tested positive, who must quarantine because of contact tracing and who are sidelined for injuries or other unrelated issues, Stricklin said the Gators have fewer than 50 scholarship players available. That’s below the SEC’s minimum threshold of 53 for holding games during the pandemic.
“Obviously we have something going on in our football program,” Stricklin said during a news conference. “So we are going to pause activities indefinitely until we get a handle on that.”
The Gators are researching the origins of the outbreak. They believe last week’s trip to Texas A&M played a factor.
Stricklin said two players who made the trip experienced allergy-like symptoms late last week but went against UF’s guidelines by failing to report them. By Sunday night, several other players were reporting symptoms. UF increased its thrice-weekly tests to daily, and the number of positives continued to grow from five Monday to 19 Tuesday to 21 as of Wednesday afternoon.
Stricklin couldn’t pinpoint anything specific about the trip that might have helped the coronavirus spread across the team but said UF’s travel protocols will get a “really close review.”
“Something’s happened in the last three or four days, and that’s the thing that you would point to as the biggest adjustment to our normal schedule,” Stricklin said. “So it just leads you to be a little suspicious that something would happen on that trip.”
As of Tuesday, Texas A&M had reported “no impact” from the Gators' positive cases.
Stricklin didn’t want to speculate, but UF’s next game, at home against Missouri on Oct. 24, could be in jeopardy, too. SEC and federal health guidelines call for people who have tested positive to isolate for 10 days and for close contacts to quarantine for 14 days.
“Hopefully we don’t have any more positives and we’re able to get on the other side of this and then we can get everyone back in a situation where you can go compete again,” Stricklin said.
UF-LSU is the second SEC game to be called off this week. Missouri-Vanderbilt was rescheduled to Dec. 12 because of an outbreak among the Commodores.
At least three games involving state teams have previously been postponed because of virus outbreaks and contact tracing, all involving Florida Atlantic: a home game against USF and road trips to Georgia Southern and Southern Miss.
The Gators also had to postpone last month’s soccer opener because of an outbreak.
“This probably won’t be the last sporting event for the University of Florida that gets postponed this school year, unfortunately,” Stricklin said. “So we’ve got to learn to manage it.”
After days of national scrutiny, coach Dan Mullen walked back his controversial comments over the weekend about opening Ben Hill Griffin Stadium up to full capacity.
On Saturday, Mullen praised the energy of Texas A&M’s crowd in the Aggies' 41-38 win, then said UF’s administrators should try to pack its stadium with 88,000 fans, as allowed under Gov. Ron DeSantis' latest push to reopen the state.
Mullen said Wednesday that he wanted to clarify his remarks.
“It was more of a whatever our health officials allow us to have in, that’s what we want to have in the stadium to keep everybody safe and healthy, as well as create an unbelievable environment for our players and create energy within the stadium,” Mullen said. “I certainly apologize if I offended people or anybody out there.”
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