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Florida-LSU game is postponed after Gators’ coronavirus outbreak

Florida's Dan Mullen was criticized after calling for fans to “pack the Swamp” for Saturday's game. Football activities were halted Tuesday after a number of players had positive coronavirus test results. (Thomas Graning/Associated Press)
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Saturday’s college football game between No. 10 Florida and LSU has been postponed, the Southeastern Conference announced Wednesday, after the Gators’ program was placed on hold Tuesday because of a number of positive coronavirus tests.

The game tentatively has been rescheduled for Dec. 12.

Florida initially announced Tuesday that five players received positive results in coronavirus tests administered through Monday. But both the Independent Alligator student newspaper and Orlando Sentinel reported Tuesday that the team had a total of 19 positive cases after further results were received Tuesday morning.

On Wednesday, Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin told reporters that 21 football players (18 on scholarship and three walk-ons) had tested positive. Because of that and other injuries, Stricklin said the Gators would have fewer than 50 scholarship players available to play LSU on Saturday. The SEC’s coronavirus guidelines for this season require teams to have at least 53 scholarship players available for games to happen.

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Stricklin said the team’s trip to Texas A&M for a game last weekend was “the root” of the outbreak and told reporters that some players did not report having symptoms of covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, before leaving on Friday. Stricklin said the players thought they were suffering from allergies.

“I really think it could be as simple as not understanding symptoms,” Stricklin said.

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During a conference call Wednesday morning, Florida Coach Dan Mullen revealed that two assistant coaches also had tested positive for the virus.

Players were not identified because of federal medical and student privacy laws.

LSU Athletic Director Scott Woodward said in a statement acknowledging the postponement: “We are in full support. It is disappointing for everyone, but prudent. We wish all those at Florida who may be impacted the very best.”

As of Tuesday, Texas A&M reported there had been no positive tests stemming from its game against Florida.

Mullen created a stir after Saturday’s loss when he called for Florida fans to “pack The Swamp” for the game against LSU. Attendance at college and pro games in Florida has been limited to a small percentage of capacity, though Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) approved fully opening stadiums to fans late last month.

Attendance at the Gators’ home game against South Carolina two weeks ago was listed at 15,120 out of nearly 17,000 allowed by the school under early September guidelines. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, widely referred to as “The Swamp,” has a seating capacity of 88,548. Tailgating has been banned on the Florida campus and spirit teams and cheerleaders were not allowed on the sidelines. The Gator Walk, in which the team moves through a tunnel of fans as players walk from the buses to the stadium, also was halted. Fans were required to wear face masks, especially upon entering and leaving the stadium.

Mullen wanted more, particularly after crediting the Texas A&M home crowd with helping the Aggies upset the Gators, 41-38, on a field goal as time expired. Kyle Field, one of the largest college football stadiums in the country, was approximately one-quarter full, with a crowd of around 25,000.

“I know our governor passed that rule so certainly, hopefully, the UF administration decides to let us pack The Swamp against LSU — 100 percent — because that crowd was certainly a factor in the game,” Mullen said Saturday.

“Absolutely want to see 90,000 in The Swamp,” he continued. “I don’t think the section behind our bench, I didn’t see an empty seat. It was packed. The student section, there must have been 50,000 behind our bench going crazy. Hopefully that creates a home-field advantage for us next week because now we passed a law in our state that we can do that. We want our students out there cheering us on to give us that home-field advantage.”

Stricklin said Wednesday he didn’t think it was likely that any Florida players contracted coronavirus from fans in attendance at Kyle Field. About Mullen’s comments, he added: “Coaches sometimes say things that are outside of their area of expertise and they’re really good at what they do. Dan is really good at calling ball plays.”

Mullen on Wednesday walked back his comments. “I certainly apologize if I offended anyone out there,” he said during a conference with reporters who cover the SEC and college football, adding that meant he wanted the stadium filled to whatever capacity was determined by health officials.

On Monday, Mullen had praised the school and team for its coronavirus protocols.

“I think if you look at what we’ve been able to do, the safety precautions we have that our players have followed, our coaches follow, our staff follows, you know, I think we’re a model of safety of what we’ve been doing during this time period,” he told reporters. “So, I’m really proud of how we’ve handled everything and how safe we’ve been with everything we’re doing and all the precautions we’ve had in place during this time.”