Since the return to campus last month, Florida has seen 29 student-athletes test positive for COVID-19.
And one athletic director.
Scott Stricklin revealed Tuesday that he tested positive for the virus last month.
“Fortunately, I had mild symptoms and was able in a couple of days to kind of go back to normal,” Stricklin said. “I thought I was being careful, but obviously this is a highly transmissible disease. So, I do think it speaks to the importance of all of us doing our part and wearing the masks and physical distancing and all that stuff. Hopefully we can help keep others safe during this process by doing our part.”
Stricklin said he went to bed one night not feeling well and woke up the next morning with the symptoms. He called one of the team doctors and was tested.
“My symptoms were mild so I never really had any anxiety,” he said. “I was kind of mad at myself that I had put myself in that situation. My family’s fine. I quarantined.
“I had about 48 hours where I felt really crummy and probably had another three or four days where I didn’t feel like going out and running a marathon. Then after that, I felt like I was back to normal. But I haven’t run any marathons since, but I have run since.”
COVID-19 has hit home for the Gators since the return to campus, something UF health officials anticipated back in early June.
UF has tested 238 athletes across all sports since then, with 29 positive tests. The football team, with so many players, has had its share of positives, Stricklin said.
“I get a report from our football trainers regularly,” he said. “At any given moment we’ll have anywhere from three to eight or nine quarantined, and probably three to five positive. We’ve been trying to keep it at, I don’t want to say manageable level because you want zero, but we’ve been able to keep that number low. We continue to provide care for those athletes in quarantine, and make sure we try to head off any kind of systemic spread.”
With COVID-19 numbers spiking in Florida and across the SEC region, the start of the college football season — and the season itself — is clearly in jeopardy.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said Monday time is running out on the conference, which will have decisions to make about the season at the end of this month.
At this stage, no one knows for sure if there will be a season, and if there is, what it might look like.
Stricklin said UF is controlling the controllables, making sure that if and when the fall sports seasons do start for football, volleyball and soccer that there will be a safe environment for all involved.
“As soon as we feel like we can provide a competitive opportunity for our athletes in a safe manner, we want to do that,” he said. “And, I don’t know when that’s going to be. None of us know. If or when the clouds are going to part and the sun is going to shine, we’re going to be able to provide that opportunity for our athletes.
“Whenever that occurs, we want to be positioned to do so. Doing that in the safest manner possible is the No. 1 priority. If that’s September, great. If that’s a different month on the calendar that allows us to do it in this school year, great. I don’t think any of us are in a position to be choosey right now.”
Stricklin was asked what his level of optimism is that there will be a football season this fall.
“I don’t know that I have a percentage,” he said. “Candidly, we have a lot of challenges ahead of us. In a perfect world we would look at the pro leagues as providing an opportunity for us to learn. Time may not be on our side now like it was a month or two ago. In a perfect world, Major League Baseball and NBA, those people would already be playing and we could sit back and learn from them.
“Hopefully they’ll get up going here pretty soon, we can have time to study what they’re doing. I think that’s really important from a college athletic standpoint that we take the opportunity to learn from what they do well and some struggles they have and maybe how we can do it better. Because we’re not going to be able to create a bubble in college athletics.”
If there is football this fall, and if fans are allowed to attend and social distancing guidelines are still in effect, there will be a much different look and feel in The Swamp. Stadium capacity would be limited to only a fraction of what it normally would be for a UF home game.
Stricklin said UF has been considering various possible scenarios about possible crowd sizes.
“None that are locked in stone by any means,” he said. “But getting six feet apart in The Swamp does start to limit the number of people who can come in there, just because of the way it’s designed. It is kind of cozy once you’re in there, as you know, and there’s 90,000 people.
“This is where our friends at UF Health have been really helpful helping us model stuff and look at how potentially it could be. My guess is if you were looking at a strictly 6-foot social distancing scenario with fans in The Swamp you’re looking at 15-20,000. Maybe you can get close to 25,000 fans, but it’s a much different number than what we’re accustomed to.”
Of course, everything is different now with COVID-19. And no one is sure how this is going to play out for college football and the other fall sports. Will there be no football until the spring, or maybe even next fall? Will there be an abbreviated season with a late start? Will the Gators be playing a schedule of all SEC teams? Will there be fans in the stands?
Whatever happens, whenever it happens, UF will be prepared, Stricklin said.
“To use a baseball analogy, we owe it to our athletes to try to run out every ground ball to figure out a way that we can get to the point where we can play games and we can have competition for them, but understanding we’re not going to do that until we get to a point where we think their health and wellbeing and safety are in as good an environment as we can make it,” he said.