LSU coach Ed Orgeron said he wouldn't be surprised if his team's scheduled football game at Florida this Saturday will be postponed.
Orgeron spoke with reporters during the Southeastern Conference's weekly teleconference, a day after the University of Florida suspended athletic activities due to an increase in positive coronavirus tests among Florida's football players this week.
"Obviously 2020 is what we're dealing with," Orgeron said. "I really thing that the safety of the kids is the primary focus this week. So, if it's safe for us to play, we're going to play. If the best thing is for us not to play, we shouldn't play."
Florida coach Dan Mullen said, later in the call, that he thinks a decision "would come today" on whether or not the game will be played. Currently, the game is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
"To be honest," Mullen said, "it's hard for me to speculate until we get the test results back as to where we're at. I would think by today, for everybody involved, that we would have some answers."
Multiple reports said 19 Florida players tested positive for COVID-19 this week, and, on Wednesday, The Athletic reported that another 10 players will have to quarantine due to potential exposure to the virus.
Mullen told reporters Wednesday that two assistant coaches also tested positive after a round of tests on Tuesday, and he said both coaches who tested were asymptomatic.
Florida's testing numbers increased daily from Sunday to Tuesday, Mullen said, and "as we got more numbers, we're getting a better idea of tracing the origins of it, but we have not been able to do that."
Already, at least 13 FBS games have been either postponed or canceled because of coronavirus concerns. LSU-Florida would mark the SEC's second postponement this year. Missouri-Vanderbilt, scheduled for Saturday, was postponed on Monday.
The Missouri-Vanderbilt game was canceled because Vanderbilt did not have the minimum number of scholarship player available.
In order to play, teams need at least 53 scholarship players available, according to SEC guidelines.
Along with the 53-player minimum, there are additional requirements for position groups. There must be seven scholarship offensive linemen (including at least one center) available, one quarterback and four defensive linemen.
Teams that don't meet the 53-player threshold still have the option to play the game. Otherwise, the game would be rescheduled or declared a no contest, pending approval by SEC commissioner Greg Sankey.
Schools can request games to be rescheduled or declared a no contest for other reasons, and they would still need to present data, including total number of players unavailable to participate, to the conference. The final decision would belong to Sankey.
Vanderbilt played with just 56 scholarship players in its 41-7 loss to South Carolina on Saturday in Nashville, Tennessee — a roster drop due to virus testing, contact tracing and injuries.
Playing with a significantly reduced roster is a major setback.
“It’s very difficult," Orgeron said. "And then you don’t know how many more players are going to get tested during the week. You have an outbreak like that, usually two or three more guys may be getting tested for it during the week, and you’ve got to look at all the guys under quarantine, so it makes it very difficult. One week, we spent without our whole offensive line practicing. So it’s very challenging.”
Florida's team activities were suspended Tuesday "out of an abundance of caution," athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a statement, which also said Mullen has been in communication with football players and their parents.
Stricklin's statement said he had conversations with the Southeastern Conference office, their opponent last week, Texas A&M, and LSU officials.
The news comes days after Mullen said after Florida's 41-38 loss at Texas A&M that he hoped Florida administrators would "pack the Swamp" at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, following Gov. Ron DeSantis' Phase 3 reopening guidelines that allow full capacity in the state's sports facilities.
Mullen said the crowd noise at Texas A&M's Kyle Field, which reopened at 25% capacity, played a factor in Florida's loss, and he wanted the 90,000 fans Florida could host to provide a competitive advantage at their home games.
His comments received backlash nationally, and Florida school president Kent Fuchs said on Twitter Sunday that the university "remains fully and firmly committed to following CDC guidelines for every part of our campus from classrooms to athletic venues as well as the guidance of our own experts and local and state health officials."
Mullen apologized for the comments on Wednesday.
"I have tremendous respect for our local health officials," Mullen said. "I think they’ve done a great job for us here at Florida."
"I think a lot of my comments maybe got taken as what I’m demanding," he added, "but it was more that whatever our health officials allow us to have we want to have in the stadium to keep everyone safe and healthy as well as create an unbelievable environment for our players and energy within the stadium."