The University of Florida and President Kent Fuchs had scheduled a gratitude day for the Friday before the Sept. 18 Alabama football game. There were to be many food trucks to celebrate the university and surrounding area making it through COVID-19. But six weeks ago, the Delta variant RSVPed by canceling the party. Now, the local community and the state of Florida have set a new record for cases, hospitalizations and deaths as the university transitions into its fall sports season.
Fuchs navigated several big decisions over the crazy 2021 summer of SEC news and a brief recovery then rise in the pandemic. On Friday, he came on air to discuss how the university is managing COVID-19, Oklahoma and Texas joining the SEC, and fan questions about athletic revenue and more.
In Fuchs’ eyes, the good news is that the vaccine is an opportunity. After all, Fuchs says, breakthrough cases are rare for those vaccinated. Accordingly, his message is simple:
Everyone get the shot.
Sporting Event Protocols
As far as COVID-19 protocols, fans are allowed to make their personal choice. Venues will be completely open, and he wants fans to pack the stadium. He expects every football game will sell out, including the opener against Florida Atlantic on Sept. 4. Fuchs does suggest, however, that unvaccinated people reconsider attending the games. If they do, however, choose to come, he recommends wearing masks. Those who are vaccinated are likely safe not wearing a mask outside, yet for indoor games, UF encourages masks.
If it were up to Fuchs, COVID protocols would be much stricter. However, the state owns the university and he has no authority to demand students or visitors wear masks, something onlookers witnessed when he attempted to move classes online. While Fuchs cannot mandate masks like last year, he can use his freedom of persuasion to encourage people to get vaccinated, something he is attempting to do with his brother.
Fuchs clarified the state rules and knowledge of how controversial the topic is while stating he is not sure why the whole nation doesn’t mandate a vaccine.
On July 30, the Southeastern Conference unanimously voted in the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma. Fuchs said SEC commissioner Greg Sankey emphasized that the presidents of Texas and Oklahoma reached out to him asking to join, not the other way around. And that the SEC presidents should not reach out to the presidents either.
The UF president said he is excited about these two universities joining the leagues.
“Texas is an amazing academic university, while Oklahoma can hold its own,” Fuchs said.
They also boast comprehensive athletic programs that excel at sports UF cares about, like volleyball and gymnastics.
A Call from Texas A&M
Before the vote happened an unnamed official from Texas A&M called Fuchs to ask him what he thought the vote would be. The Florida president responded the vote would be 13-to-1.
In turn, the Aggie asked: well, what if Florida State wanted to join the SEC? Fuchs assumes the vote would be 13-to-1 and he would have to deal with it.
New Scheduling Opportunities
Fuchs is excited about the opportunity for more variety in scheduling. He frankly can’t predict how much the conference will change, but Fuchs and athletic director Scott Stricklin had already been advocating for some change in the SEC schedule, as in playing Kentucky and Tennessee less, in favor of playing Auburn, for example, more.
State of the (Athletic) Union
Fuchs answered several fan questions about sports and the financial standing of the university, which he mentioned is top 10 athletically and scholastically for public universities.
Financially, the university is doing well. UF grew its faculty by 500 members over the last five years, thanks to investments from the state of Florida.
Fuchs said COVID-19 set the athletic department a little back and needed a little help during the pandemic, but typically Stricklin and the athletic department can stand on their own. The new TV contract with the Saturday CBS feature game eventually shifting over to ESPN will be a new revenue source.
As far as ticket sales, Stricklin continues working on enhancing the experience. Fuchs sees a lot of enthusiasm from fans. And student tickets have sold out.
Stricklin or former athletic director Jeremy Foley have never taken Fuchs’ advice on adding sports. Fuchs would love to add a men’s and women’s hockey team, which would be slightly frozen by the fact there’s no ice rink in Gainesville.
The Florida soccer team has already kicked off its season as Fuchs attended the home game. Gator volleyball begins its season Friday in Sacramento, California. Fall sports are on their way while Fuchs and the university medical team continue to monitor the pandemic and great plays.