TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday joined President Donald Trump and other GOP members of Congress in an effort persuade athletic conferences to salvage the upcoming college football season despite the Covid-19 outbreak.
The Republican governor, an avid sports fan and former Yale baseball captain, held a briefing at Florida State University’s practice facility to send the message that Florida is carrying on with Division I football. An abbreviated season would better than nothing, DeSantis said, leaving open the possibility of restructuring schedules for teams willing to compete with Florida schools.
“To take away that season would be short-circuiting the dreams that so many of our student athletes have worked for, in many cases, their whole lives,” DeSantis said.
The roundtable event with FSU President John Thrasher, athletic director David Coburn, head football coach Mike Norvell and two FSU football players, came just hours before the Big Ten conference postponed its fall football season. The Pac-12 followed suit Tuesday.
DeSantis pitched Florida to professional teams back in May, after sports were given “essential services” status. Throughout the pandemic, he has been adamant about life carrying on in Florida, a position that helped the state secure the revamped NBA season at Walt Disney World outside of Orlando.
Since then, the state has suffered thousands of additional coronavirus infections.
Florida on Tuesday reported 5,831 new Covid-19 cases and 276 deaths, the highest one-day total of the outbreak thus far, according to the Department of Health. The positivity rate for new cases was 10.3 percent and the overall percent positive rate was 14.7, the highest mark in a week.
DeSantis on Tuesday endorsed health measures deployed at FSU, which include daily temperature checks, social distancing in team meetings, and masks in social settings. Taking the season away from student athletes would do “lasting damage,” he said.
With FSU’s first football game scheduled a month from Wednesday, Thrasher said he wanted to ensure that NCAA conferences knew the university has every intention of carrying out the season.
Schools in the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences probably are “vacillating” over canceling football, he said, but the Southeastern Conference, which includes the University of Florida, and the Atlantic Coast Conference, with FSU and the University of Miami, are still on board with the season.
“We think it’s in the best interest of our student athletes for us to play football,” Thrasher said.
Still, athletes at hundreds of colleges and universities are unlikely to participate in fall sports this year after the NCAA’s second- and third-tier divisions last week canceled postseason competition. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference canceled football weeks ago, upending the seasons at Florida A&M University and Bethune-Cookman University.
DeSantis suggested that conferences jettisoning the fall football season could send teams scrambling to schedule opponents.
It’s difficult to forecast what will happen to schools if conferences opt out, but coaches and athletic directors have indicated they are looking for games, Coburn told DeSantis.
“It could get very interesting,” Coburn said.