GAINESVILLE — Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said he anticipates Gators football games having fans at full capacity during the 2021 season.
Stricklin, speaking during a UF Eye Opener Discovery Breakfast on Wednesday, told those attending the virtual event that he expects all sporting contests to allow full-capacity crowds, according to CBS4-TV in Gainesville.
Stricklin’s comments are the first significant ones about the university’s plans for allowing fans to attend games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Last season, the coronavirus pandemic and Alachua County ordinances limited capacity in the Swamp to 17,000 fans, roughly 20 percent capacity, in order to meet social-distancing guidelines for fans entering and exiting the stadium, using bathrooms or purchasing concessions. The stadium seats up to 88,548.
Florida coach Dan Mullen hinted on his Twitter account last week that the stadium would be ready to host full crowds.
“See you in the Swamp this fall,” he tweeted, along with video of the 2019 Auburn game. A raucous sellout crowd watched the Gators beat the Tigers 24-13 during one of the loudest games at the stadium in recent memory.
The largest crowd in 2020 reached 16,610 on Dec. 12 against LSU, when the heavily favored Gators lost 37-34 on senior night. Only 12,049 attended their 41-17 win against Missouri on Halloween night.
If Florida is able to meet Stricklin’s aims, Mullen is sure to support the decision.
The coach generated national headlines and experienced significant backlash last year with calls to pack the Swamp after an Oct. 10 loss at Texas A&M. Stadium capacity remained the same all season.
For it to change in 2021, university officials, along with those with the SEC and Alachua County, would have to change current restrictions. But optimism around the COVID-19 vaccine rollout provides optimism that people can begin to gather in groups during the coming months.
Mullen said last month that he hopes there is enough time before the team’s Sept. 4 opener against Florida Atlantic to reestablish the Swamp as one of best homefield advantages in college football.
“Hopefully we’re able to get back to some normalcy in the fall when we hit the field again,” Mullen said March 15. “I think all the Gator Nation is going to be excited. Everyone I see is like, ‘Boy, I hope we can pack the Swamp. I hope we get there; I hope to get it back to where we want it to be as the fans.’
“They’re desperate to get back into the stadium and to go experience Saturdays in the Swamp. And so hopefully through all the precautions and everything going on we’re able to stay safe and we’re able to fill the stadium this fall.”
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