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Stricklin confident Gators will move past COVID crisis

Robbie Andreu
Gator Sports

A COVID-19 outbreak has hit the Florida football team hard, forcing postponement of Saturday’s LSU game in The Swamp and pausing all football activities indefinitely.

The big question now is: how long is this going to last?

No one has an answer to that.

But UF athletic director Scott Stricklin is confident the Gators will get past this eventually.

“You look around at other football programs around the country who've had similar situations and they've come through it on the other side,” Stricklin said. “I really believe we will come through it on the other side. Obviously, we want to make sure our players are safe and healthy. 

“Fortunately we don't have anybody who's really sick from a symptom standpoint. But we want to make sure we take care of those individuals, we take care of those who are currently testing negative and make sure that they continue to stay safe."

All football activities were paused Tuesday, when UF’s positive tests total had climbed from five on Sunday to 19 with about a dozen more quarantined through contract tracing. Then the LSU game was postponed Wednesday afternoon after two more players tested positive that morning. Stricklin said they had 18 positives among scholarship players plus three walk-ons for a total of 21. Two assistant coaches also have tested positive.

The Gators have been going through daily testing since Sunday, and that will continue, Stricklin said. The UF coaches were sent home Wednesday, and there is no timetable for a return to football activities.

“Obviously, we have something going on in our football program,” Stricklin said. “So we are going to pause activities indefinitely until we get a handle on that. Those athletes and staff who are not in quarantine will continue with the regular testing program so we can kind of make sure we have a handle on this before we decide next steps.”

The LSU game has tentatively been rescheduled for Dec. 12. The Gators’ next scheduled game is Oct. 24 against Missouri in The Swamp. It’s way too early to determine whether that game will be played. That decision will be made based on what happens with UF’s COVID situation over the next five or six days. And that’s assuming Missouri doesn’t develop problems between now and early next week.

“It’s hard to speculate (about that game) right now,” Stricklin said. “We’ll be in communication with the SEC and keep Missouri abreast of what we’re seeing."

Missouri also had its game with Vanderbilt postponed this week because of Vanderbilt's virus issues.

This situation, this pause in activities, should not come as a shock to anyone. Back when the student-athletes started returning to campus in late May, UF health officials predicted there likely would be spikes in positive tests and that some sports could have interruptions in their schedule.

It happened to soccer last month, when the Gators’ season opener was postponed due to a COVID outbreak.

Now, it’s football’s turn to pause and work its way through this situation.

"This is a year unlike any we've had before, and it's one that we never want to have again, but it's one that's in front of us,” Stricklin said. “Right now, this is not fun, but it is in such a better place than where we were several months ago and we continue to learn and adapt and COVID is not going away. We've got to learn to manage and deal with it."

The numbers coaches will be monitoring most closely will be how many scholarship players are available. To play, the SEC requires at least 53 on game days. On Wednesday, the Gators had less than 50 scholarship players available.

“We've got to make smart choices, and we've got to protect ourselves and protect one another," Stricklin said. "This probably won't be the last sporting event for the University of Florida that gets postponed this school year, unfortunately.

“So, we’ve got to learn to manage it. It’s not the end of the world. We want to keep people safe. Based on what I know right now, medically speaking, all these individuals are going to come back and they're going to be OK. We’'ll manage it and we'll move on.”