Stricklin: Florida Gators Planning for Full Capacity in 2021

The Florirda Gators intend to fill their stadiums for sporting events this year.

In the words of Dan Mullen, the Florida Gators are aiming to "Pack the Swamp" during the 2021 season.

UF athletic director Scott Stricklin shared on Wednesday morning that Florida anticipates all of Florida's sporting events to begin allowing fans in at full capacity this fall, according to Sara Cardona of CBS4 News in Gainesville. Speaking at the UF Eye Opener Discovery Breakfast virtual event, Stricklin said that about 60 percent of Florida's student-athletes have been vaccinated for COVID-19 at this point.

Graham Hall of The Gainesville Sun shared details from the call in a Twitter thread. Stricklin indicated that the program will follow instructions from UF Health as it has throughout the pandemic and that he believes the entire country will have the chance to be vaccinated by September 4.

Update: Stricklin has issued a clarification on Hall's report, suggesting that he doesn't anticipate requiring proof of vaccination. He wouldn't totally deny the possibility of such a requirement, however.

Stricklin also shared that UF would require proof of vaccination for fans to enter the stadium if UF Health recommends it. The NFL's Buffalo Bills revealed their plan for full capacity this season on Tuesday and will require proof of vaccination through an app to enter Highmark Stadium.

Florida allowed 20 percent capacity at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium throughout the shortened 2020 football season due to the coronavirus pandemic and Alachua County ordinances, allowing a maximum of roughly 17,000 fans to attend out of a possible 88,548. The Gators also allowed only 20 percent capacity (2,200 fans per game) for men's and women's basketball games throughout the winter and into the spring. 

However, as the 2021 baseball and softball seasons got underway, UF eased its social distancing restrictions from six feet to three feet at outdoor sporting events in March and expanded capacity for games of those two sports. This shift foreshadowed changes in regards to fan capacity for other sports.

Florida has credited UF Health along the way for its guidance to safely operate sporting events with fans. 

According to the Orlando Sentinel's reporting, SEC and Alachua County officials will have to be in agreement with UF on protocols before easing current restrictions to allow more fans through the gates.

Mullen's "Pack the Swamp" comments, which came about following a 41-38 loss to Texas A&M in the early part of the 2020 season, caused nationwide controversy amid the pandemic as there was not a vaccine available at the time. A frustrated Mullen claimed that the crowd at Kyle Field was "certainly a factor" in UF's loss and went on to boldly state that he wanted Ben Hill Griffin Stadium packed at "100 percent" for UF's next home game.

That next home game would have to wait and the administration and health officials surely did not cave to Mullen's demands. Florida experienced a team-wide COVID-19 outbreak within days of Mullen's comments which put the Gators' football season on pause for two weeks.

Mullen eventually walked his comments back after originally brushing criticism aside. This past spring, he made a similar suggestion but without frustration, and instead, with hope.

“Hopefully we’re able to get back to some normalcy in the fall when we hit the field again,” Mullen said on March 15. “I think all the Gator Nation is going to be excited. Everyone I see is like, ‘Boy, I hope we can pack the Swamp. I hope we get there, I hope to get it back to where we want it to be as the fans.’"