UF athletic activities on hold, point to April 15

Florida coach Dan Mullen, right, talks with UF Athletic Director Scott Stricklin, left, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium last season. [Matt Pendleton/Correspondent]

 The silencing of spring sports has arrived at the University of Florida.

  All of the school’s spring sports, including spring football, and the facilities used by those sports, are being shut down until at least April 15 as part of an SEC mandate announced by the conference Friday.

 The league-wide shutdown is related to the coronavirus and includes all athletic activities, including competitions, team and individual practices, meetings and other organized gatherings.

 UF’s locker rooms, weight rooms and practice facilities are all off limits to the student-athletes until at least April 15, athletic director Scott Stricklin said. He said the student-athletes are being encouraged to go home if they can. All UF courses are being offered online only starting Monday and running through at least March 30.

 Spring football practice, which was scheduled to begin Monday, is clearly in jeopardy and could eventually be canceled. The spring game had been scheduled for April 18.

 “I would say at this point (spring football) is in flux,” Stricklin said. “Obviously, we’re not going to go through normal spring ball as we had scheduled and we’re probably not going to have a spring game on April 18. Beyond that, we’re not in a position to make definitive comments.

 “Dan (Mullen) was like all of our coaches, what do we need to do for our kids and how can we put ourselves in a position to get through this in a way that provides the health for everybody, but gets us back to normal as soon as possible.”

 Football players, along with all other student-athletes, can remain on campus, but will not be able to use UF’s athletic facilities, other than the training rooms and the Hawkins Academic Center. They will continue to have access to health, nutrition, mental health counseling and academic support.

 If student-athletes who remain in town want to get together and work out or lift weights on their own they’ll have to do it off campus.

 Stricklin met with Mullen and UF’s spring coaches Friday and told them the league was heading toward a shutdown of all athletic activities.

 “They’re disappointed,” he said. “We have a baseball team that’s No. 1 in the country, a gymnastics team that’s No. 2 in the country. We have a lot of teams ranked in the top 10 that had a shot to go have a great year and there’s some coaches that we were really hurting.

 “I know we have some athletes that are really hurting, but they get it. They understand. In that conversation this morning, we all talked about it, we’re all competitive beings or we wouldn’t be in college athletics. But this can’t be about competitive advantages, this can’t be about beating another school.

 “This is about one thing and one thing only. This is about how do we as a community protect one another and ourselves during this time and try to get back to normal as quickly as possible.”

 Stricklin said he’s in favor of the spring student-athletes being granted an extra year of eligibility if their season does not resume in April or at some later date. It is something the NCAA is considering.

 “Absolutely,” he said. “There’s two pieces of that. We’ve got to worry about helping young people get their year of eligibility back and then what do you do about roster sizes because there’s another group of freshmen, in many cases, that have already been recruited and signed here with the expectation that kids are going to be graduating and moving on.

 “The NCAA needs to figure that out, whether we exempt those seniors from any roster limits so that they can still be here. I don’t know what the answer is. We have a lot of time to figure that out.”

 Stricklin said the target date of April 15 for possibly returning to normal activity is “optimistic.”

 “We have put April 15th out as a date to work toward,” he said. “I’m not an expert, but what we’ve been told here on campus we probably need to expect that potentially to go longer, and we’ll just have to be prepared for that.

 “Things aren’t going to be normal for a little while. They’re going to get normal again. I hope April 15 is right on, that would be exciting news for everybody. I just think we have to prepare ourselves that it may be beyond that.”

 “The most important thing is we, as a society and community and a university, take the steps necessary to protect our young people, protect our staff and our coaches, and protect our fans who love watching our young people compete. That’s why we’re trying to take these steps.”

 In the meantime, coaches and student-athletes are hurting over Friday’s shutdown.

 “You just read on social media, some of the posts from our softball players or baseball players, our track athletes,” Stricklin said. “They invest a lot of time and effort and energy into being in a position to compete against the very best and have a chance to be successful.

 “Through no fault of their own, no fault of any of us, that’s been taken from them. The psychology of an athlete is always working toward something. They woke up this morning and there was nothing to work toward. That’s a hard thing to process.”