Mullen brushes aside criticism for wanting to 'pack Swamp'

Florida head coach Dan Mullen reacts during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. Mullen was given several more chances Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, to walk back bizarre comments about wanting to pack 90,000 screaming fans inside Florida Field during the coronavirus pandemic. He declined each of them, brushing aside criticism and insisting he's focused on defending national champion LSU. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)

The University of Florida has suspended athletic activities due to an increase in positive coronavirus tests among football players this week, the university announced Tuesday afternoon.

The Gators will not practice Tuesday, and, depending how far the outbreak reaches, it could jeopardize the possibility that LSU will play Florida on Saturday in Gainesville at 3 p.m.

The Independent Florida Alligator, Florida's student newspaper, reported that 19 football players tested positive for COVID-19 — a report that was confirmed by the Associated Press.

Florida announced earlier on Tuesday that five additional football players have tested positive for coronavirus, a boost from its one reported positive case a week ago.

A total of 19 positive tests — depending on which players and the numbers of those who will have to quarantine — could potentially reduce Florida's roster size enough to warrant canceling Saturday's game.

In order to play, teams need at least 53 scholarship players available, according to SEC guidelines.

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.

At least 13 FBS games have been either postponed or canceled because of coronavirus concerns, and Missouri-Vanderbilt, scheduled for Saturday, was the first SEC game postponed due to the virus.

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.

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Team activities were suspended "out of an abundance of caution," Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a statement, which said Gators head coach Dan 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.

Stricklin said Florida health and athletic officials will reevaluate circumstances on Wednesday.

report by the Orlando Sentinel said the university conducted 345 tests last week after reporting one case among football players and that no other student athletes tested positive out of an additional 437 tests.

The report did not specify which five players tested positive or if any additional players are quarantining.

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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 brushed off questions about the controversy surrounding his comments, and he told reporters Monday that he had not spoken with Stricklin or Fuchs.

"I've been preparing for LSU," Mullen told reporters Monday. "But, I mean, I’ll be honest. 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."

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Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.