Florida football: Bad week continues with COVID outbreak

To say things have gone South in Gainesville this week would be putting it nicely. The once promising season for Florida football has now been all but derailed, not only because of its disappointing loss Saturday to Texas A&M, but now because the Gators have become the latest Power 5 school to encounter a COVID-19 outbreak strong enough to disrupt the schedule.

Florida suspended football activities this week after 19 players tested positive. An announcement came early Wednesday afternoon that this week’s game against LSU would be postponed to a later date, now tentatively scheduled for Dec. 12.

Worse news would be hard to come by for the NCAA as a whole, let alone a Florida team that has now gone from College Football Playoff contenders to having to cancel practices following a dismal loss. From a football perspective this situation is a disaster, but from a logistical angle it could be even worse.

The plight of pro sports leagues amidst the pandemic has been well documented, initially with the MLB having to play a myriad schedule of doubleheaders and now with the NFL struggling to reschedule games and move teams around without adding weeks onto the end of the season. For these organized, centralized professional leagues, this challenge has been bad enough. For the fractured, all over the map mess that is college football, where some conferences have yet to even begin play, COVID outbreaks have the potential to be more than just disruptive.

To say nothing about the double Tylenol scheduling headaches this situation alone will cause decision makers in the SEC, the humanitarian cost of an outbreak among unpaid student athletes will undoubtedly be an issue. For the NCAA as a whole, midseason outbreaks were the worst case scenario this season. We are talking about unpaid athletes, who theoretically are supposed to be students first, taking the field in an organized contact sport while many of the universities they represent aren’t even holding in-person classes.

This is an organization in the NCAA, which is already neck deep in issues over player compensation and NIL (Name, image, and likeness) rights without a pandemic throwing additional ethical quandaries into the fold. For a prominent team to have an outbreak of this size not even a month into its season is a massive red flag for all of Division 1 football.

This will be an essential story to monitor as it develops as it pertains to college sports as a whole this year. Should all go well, with cases subsiding and barring further complications, the Gators next game is scheduled for Oct. 24 in Gainesville against Missouri.

For a team coming off such a devastating loss on the field, it now becomes imperative for Florida coaches, staff and players to put safety first off the pitch. If they fail to do so and this becomes a greater issue, they will put not only themselves and their season at risk, but the entire landscape of the FBS this year. Not even a month in, the Gators are facing their toughest test of the season. This is an obstacle that must be overcome before Florida can even think of salvaging their season in a football sense.

Photo courtesy of FloridaGators.com