Even though it’s still early in the first quarter in their return to football, the Florida Gators are currently winning the fight to fend off COVID-19.
That was the update provided by UF athletic director Scott Stricklin on Thursday.
“Our guys have done a great job just the time they’ve been back here for the workouts that they’ve had up to this point,” Stricklin said. “We’re at a stage right now, we have zero athletes who are positive. On the football team, we have zero athletes who are having to be quarantined right now. That wasn’t the case. In June, we had some positives.
“But they’ve done a great job of doing what we’ve asked of them not only when they’re up here working out but when they’re off, when they have their free time.T o be successful in that area is going to be based on the decisions our kids make.”
So far, so good.
Now comes the really challenging aspect: getting through preseason camp, to the Sept. 26 opener and then staying on schedule from there with students back on campus.
Much diligence — and caution — lies ahead for Dan Mullen’s team.
Unlike the NBA, college football teams cannot exist in a bubble. That’s something Stricklin pointed out a few weeks ago. But the Gators can come close to one, he said Thursday.
“The fact of the matter is in a lot of ways sports can kind of create a semi-bubble by nature,” Strickland said. “Guys tend to hang around each other. They’re around each other in competition and practice and everything else.
“The bubble is our campus and that’s only going to be as good as the decision that each individual makes. Beyond that, I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do anything extraordinary from a bubble standpoint. We’re going to try and be really smart about how they meet, how they work out.”
UF has a game plan to cope with the coronavirus and make it to — and hopefully through — the 10-game conference-only schedule. Now, it’s up to everyone in and around the program, especially the players, to execute the plan, Stricklin said.
“A lot of it is will they do the things we’re asking of them from washing hands, face covering, social distancing standpoint when they’re not in our facility?” Stricklin said. “I know in our facility we’re going to require all of those things.
“The infectious disease experts will tell you that those are kind of like the basic tenets of public health when we have a pandemic. Those things that we get so tired of hearing about — face coverings, social distancing, washing hands. Like blocking and tackling, we have to get really good at the basics.”
The Gators were scheduled to open preseason camp next Friday. But that start date likely will be pushed back with the start of the regular season being moved from Sept. 5 to Sept. 26.
If the Gators can get through the next month or so without a COVID-19 outbreak, their chances of making it to the season — and having a season — possibly would appear more favorable.
Stricklin said the SEC’s decision to delay the start of the season until the end of September was based on information provided by the health experts.
“They will tell you that the month of August through Labor Day has a chance to be kind of rough in our region from a caseload standpoint,” Stricklin said. “Especially reintegrating schools and campuses and everything else.
“The idea that we can get away from Labor Day a little bit, we can have some time to watch the NFL, see what we can learn from them, could we get away from Labor Day and buy some time?
“Hopefully let the numbers level off and come down. And those same medical experts believe that as September goes on into October that our case loads are going to come down and things are going to look better. We’re just trying to get in that window where there might be a better environment in our local communities that will allow us to try to do this.”