When he was the football coach at Mississippi State, Dan Mullen had a knack for saying the right thing and for winning ballgames. No other coach had the Bulldogs ranked No. 1 in the country, as Mullen and quarterback Dak Prescott did for several weeks during 2014.
Mullen moved on to Florida a few years ago and is building a powerful team. But it was a surprise to hear him grouse after last weekend’s 41-38 loss at Texas A&M that the Aggies’ crowd made a difference in the game and that Florida should allow 90,000 people into its own stadium, known as the Swamp, this Saturday when defending national champion LSU comes to town.
For the record, Texas A&M allowed right at 25,000 fans to attend the game — about 25% of their stadium’s capacity. Yet the way Mullen sounded, they made enough noise to throw off the Gators. Seriously?
During normal seasons, most Southeastern Conference games attract upwards of 60,000 people. Several stadiums, including A&M’s, LSU’s, Tennessee’s and Alabama’s, hold 90,000 to 100,000. So Florida got a huge break by playing in College Station with a greatly reduced crowd.
Besides, Mullen has to know that Florida’s problem has nothing to do with the number of fans at its games. It’s the Gator defense.
Florida’s defense ranks 13th in the 14-team Southeastern Conference, and 72nd out of the 76 Football Bowl Subdivision teams that are currently playing games. The Gators are giving up lots of yards and lots of points, and that’s why they lost at Texas A&M.
Given a chance to review his call for a full stadium this weekend, Mullen instead went all in. Asked if he understood the risk of bringing 90,000 people, some with masks and some without, into crowded quarters for four hours, Mullen said Texas A&M created a great atmosphere last Saturday, and he hopes Florida fans do the same thing this weekend. He then repeated that he absolutely wanted to get 90,000 people in for the LSU game.
The Associated Press reports that the Florida governor has given permission for stadiums to be full for football games. Fortunately, Florida’s president and athletic director have kept their heads. They appear to recognize that in 2020, while athletic success is welcomed, there are larger issues in play.
The school continues to hold all classes online. Masks and distancing are required on campus. Building occupancy is limited.
In other words, they know it’s not yet time to fill every seat, even in an outdoor stadium. Good for them. The virus is still alive and kicking, and it will only be controlled when it stops being transmitted from one person to another.
No matter what Mullen thinks, a packed house does nothing to achieve that goal. And after tempting fate, on Tuesday he got a payback of sorts: The university had to put football activities on hold after 21 of its players tested positive for the coronavirus. At least two assistant coaches also tested positive for the virus. The LSU game is tentatively rescheduled for Dec. 12.