No. 10 Florida has paused organized football activities due to COVID-19 concerns. The school announced Tuesday that an increase in positive tests led to its decision to halt practices, a decision that will be reviewed on Wednesday by University of Florida Health and the athletic department’s sports medicine staff.
Florida reported five positive COVID-19 tests within the football team on Tuesday morning. However, the Independent Florida Alligator — and later the Associated Press — report that number has ballooned to 19. G. Allan Taylor of The Athletic corroborated the inflated number of positives, adding that another 10 players face mandatory quarantines due to contact tracing. “Most of those 29 players currently sidelined are on scholarship, which leaves in question whether the Gators can meet the minimum of 53 scholarship players needed to play a game under SEC guidelines,” Taylor wrote.
Additionally, Mullen told reporters on Wednesday that two assistant coaches tested positive for COVID-19, but are asymptomatic.
“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,” said athletic director Scott Stricklin in a statement on Tuesday.
Florida isn’t just dealing with the coronavirus, though. Normal in-season attrition could also put stress on the roster. Per SEC guidelines, a team must have at least seven offensive linemen, one quarterback and four defensive linemen within the 53-man roster minimums. The Athletic reports that Florida is “struggling to field the minimum in at least one of those areas.”
The Gators are scheduled to host LSU this weekend, but that game could be in jeopardy based on how long Florida’s pause in workouts lasts. The Gators have been testing every day this week after the spike in positives on Sunday with the latest round of testing taking place at about 7 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Mullen expects a decision to be made by Wednesday on whether the LSU game can be played on Saturday. If not, it would likely be pushed back to Dec. 12.
Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork released a statement in the wake of Florida’s decision on Tuesday afternoon.
“We have been in touch with officials at the University of Florida and have also reviewed the available data from the Kinexon contact tracing system deployed by the SEC,” he said. “At this point, there has been no impact within our football program, but we will continue our regular testing regiment this week and stay diligent with all our safety protocols.”
Mullen has been vocal about his desire to “pack The Swamp” this weekend for the cross-division rivalry game vs. the Tigers after the state moved to Phase 3 of its reopening plan, which allows full attendance at stadiums. Florida’s athletic director and university president quickly confirmed that attendance inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium would not be increased beyond the 17,000 seats currently made available to the public amid the pandemic.
The third-year coach walked that sentiment back on Wednesday, deferring instead to recommendations from local health officials.
The news comes one day after Vanderbilt’s home game with Missouri was postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing issues within the Commodores football program. That game, which was scheduled for this Saturday, is the first to be postponed or altered due to the coronavirus pandemic.