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Florida’s four holdouts all back to practice, per report

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A week of worries culminated in two public statements of intent and two quieter returns.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 12 Florida at LSU Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As of Monday of last week, a quartet of Florida Gators players who held out of the 2020 season’s first fall practice were considered question marks for full participation in the 2020 season itself.

As of this this Monday afternoon, all four have seemingly turned those question marks into exclamation points for a team coming off back-to-back New Year’s Six bowl wins.

Defensive end Zachary Carter and wide receiver Trevon Grimes each tweeted out their intent to play football for Florida this fall — if, in fact, Florida does play football this fall — last Thursday, making waves on social media by doing so.

Carter’s explanation — that his father struggled with a COVID-19 infection in July and August, and that a longtime family friend passed due to the disease — also ended with his intention to spend the fall “ballin out in honor of all COVID-19 fighters and victims.”

For Jacob Copeland and Kadarius Toney, returns came on Monday, and in lower-key fashion: Copeland was spotted in practice video posted by other players, and then a report from Zach Abolverdi of Gators Territory posited that all four previous holdouts, Toney included, practiced with the team on Monday.

It’s not clear whether this definitively means that all of the quarter is definitively planning to play for Florida this fall. While we can safely extrapolate from the tweets by Carter and Grimes, neither Copeland nor Toney — neither player a stranger to using social media by any means — has issued a statement on the matter, and Florida coach Dan Mullen has yet to address media members in the wake of today’s report.

But it’s also worth remembering that Florida — and the rest of the college football world — still has a set of hurdles to run to get to late September, when the season is currently scheduled to start. Thousands of University of Florida students either taking in-person classes or living in Gainesville while taking online classes have been and will be arriving in Gainesville over the course of the last few days and week in advance of undergraduate classes beginning on August 31, and other UF schools — the law school, for instance — already have classes in session.

And if the behavior of those students follows trends from elsewhere in the country this fall — as in Auburn and Tuscaloosa, where Auburn and University of Alabama students have been seen massing at bars sans masks and in the latter city’s case prompted an executive order suspending alcohol service, and as at Michigan State, North Carolina, NC State, and Notre Dame, all of which have moved undergraduate classes online either temporarily or permanently for this fall semester after outbreaks of COVID-19 tied to arriving students — it will likely become incumbent on schools to make the call to transition to fully online education and isolate any athletes to provide them the safest possible conditions for preparing to play whatever sports remain.

That, in turn, may quite possibly reignite or intensify the movement by college football players that has been quiet for the last couple of weeks, should those players decide in part or en masse that the prospect of playing an abbreviated season while being quarantined for months — the solution arrived at by several pro sports leagues that has largely kept the NBA, NHL, and WNBA safe from coronavirus outbreaks this summer — is untenable without compensation that would reflect those players’ status as athletes whose labor generations millions for their employers and whose veneer of being students would be gossamer-thin.

At a minimum, Copeland seems to have grasped that last bit as a possibility, liking multiple tweets addressing that thorny issue of amateurism in a pandemic. It would also seem hard to believe that Florida players who have issued a public call for extended medical support in the midst of a pandemic caused by a disease whose long-term effects are still not known and finished that statement with an acknowledgement that (sic) “it is our obligation, as a student-athlete, to leave the game, in which we love, in a better position for future student-athletes” do not understand that they maintain massive leverage.

But Florida was also ranked the No. 8 team in the country — behind two Big Ten schools that will not play this fall — in the initial AP Top 25 of the 2020 season on Monday. And chasing championship dreams may be incompatible with the sort of resolve and restraint it might require to effect seismic change in college athletics.