Gov. DeSantis on return of college sports: ‘We want you guys to play'

Florida governor holds roundtable at FSU before Big Ten, Pac-12 pull plug on fall football

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds a collegiate athletics roundtable at Florida State University on Tuesday. (WCTV)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis held a roundtable discussion Tuesday afternoon at Florida State University, where he pushed for student-athletes, including college football players, being able to play this fall.

DeSantis was joined by FSU President John Thrasher, athletic director David Coburn, football coach Mike Norvell, defensive end Joshua Kaindoh and wide receiver Keyshawn Helton at the roundtable, which was held just hours before the Big Ten and the Pac-12 announced they won’t play football this fall because of concerns about COVID-19, taking two of college football’s five power conferences out of a crumbling season amid the pandemic.

“Recently, there were discussions amongst different presidents and different conferences about whether they should deep-six the football season entirely, and that caused a chain reaction of football players across the county saying, ‘We want to play,‘” DeSantis said. “And we’re here to say, from the state of Florida, we want you guys to play.”

A growing number of athletes have spoken out about saving the season, with Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence among a group posting to Twitter with the hashtag #WeWantToPlay. President Donald Trump threw his support behind them Monday.

During the roundtable at FSU’s Albert J. Dunlap Athletic Training Facility, DeSantis, who played baseball at Yale University, talked about the environment that sports provide, saying it’s “a safer environment for these kids than what they would have.”

“Whether you’re somebody who’s destined for the NFL or whether you’re just somebody who’s going to have a productive college career, I think taking that away, I think would do would do lasting damage, so we want to make sure that folks know that we value the opportunities for our student-athletes in the state of Florida,” the governor said. “For these athletes, the risk is very low, but whatever risk there is, to me, outside of this structured environment, I think the risk goes up. I don’t think the risk goes down.”

Kaindoh, who has been playing football since he was in second grade, suffered a season-ending leg injury last year and addressed the conversation about potentially not playing this season.

“(It was) the first time I really got football taken away from me,” Kaindoh said. “I put so much work day in and day out, even when school opened back up and stuff like that, and to get to the point where I’m at right now and to potentially have the season taken away, it would just be heartbreaking.”

Helton, who had a season-ending knee injury last season, echoed his teammate’s sentiments.

“I’ve been playing football since I was 4 years old, and from day one of my injury, I’ve been preparing myself. I’ve been grinding, getting ready for a potential season, and to have a season taken away from me — another year of not playing football — this will just be a disappointment,” Helton said.

Norvell said two Florida State players have opted out of this season, leaving roughly another 120 others who are still willing to play ball.

“I need to play. I need to get some film, you know?” Kaindoh said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis was joined by Florida State University President John Thrasher, athletic director David Coburn, football coach Mike Norvell, defensive end Joshua Kaindoh and wide receiver Keyshawn Helton at a roundtable Tuesday. (News Service of Florida)

Thrasher said Florida State has safety protocols in place and what he believes is the right atmosphere to go out and play football.

“Coach Norvell has got a great game plan together for the season, great game plan for the practices, and in terms of safety and all of that, I think they’re both ready to play,” Thrasher said. “We know that we can do it safely, and what we frankly want to send is a message to some of the other schools that may be teetering on whether or not to play football. We think it’s in the best interest of our student-athletes for us to play football. We can do it safely, and we can do it productively for them, as well as the absolute culture of our university and certainly this community of Tallahassee.”

Among the strict protocols in place for student-athletes, Coburn said, are daily temperature and symptoms checks, use of a residence hall as a quarantine zone and weekly testing.

“And we will probably go to bi-weekly testing during the season,” he said.

Without football revenue, Thrasher told reporters, funding for other Olympic sports would be difficult. Coburn estimated football accounts for 75% of the athletic department’s revenue.

Thrasher said there would probably be another meeting this week of the presidents of the Atlantic Coast Conference and he feels “relatively certain” that the Southeastern Conference is aligned with the ACC.

“They want to play, and we think the Big Ten and the Pac-12 probably are vacillating a little bit in some of the schools, but not all of them,” he said before those two conferences pulled the plug on fall football. “And that’s one of the reasons we wanted to try to get together — thank again the governor for taking the leadership on this — to see if we can send a message that these schools that are participating and want to play have done it the right way. We put the protocols in place for medical aspects. We have done everything else we think that we can do to make this a safe environment, and we think we’re ready to play. As I’ve said, our coaches want to coach, and our players want to play.”

DeSantis also said: “I asked President Thrasher and coach about, ‘Hey, if some of these other conferences shut down, can we welcome their players to the state of Florida?’ I’m not exactly sure how the NCAA rules work on that. But I can tell you, if there’s a way, you know, we want you guys to be able to play, as well.”

Florida State’s first football game is Sept. 12, but the game against the University of Florida won’t be on the schedule this year.

On Monday, DeSantis said during an interview with Clay Travis on Fox Sports Radio that he is hopeful that college sports are played this year and that there’s “no reason we can’t play high school and college athletics.”

“My sense is that SEC country is probably going to really want to play the season. I know the Big Ten may go in a different direction, but I do think that people want the season to go,” DeSantis said. “I’m happy to help out with the effort, because I do think it’s important. At the end of the day, this is a season that these student-athletes will not be able to get back, and that’s going to have ramifications I think far into the future. You can do it safely, all athletes can make the decision for themselves. If they don’t feel comfortable, let them keep their eligibility and come back, but I’d be willing to bet 99% would want to play.”

DeSantis again encouraged the start of high school sports, saying, “We think that the Aug. 24 [date] is the way to go.” The Florida High School Athletic Association board of directors meets Friday at 10 a.m. to vote on when to begin the season. Practices, as of now, are scheduled to begin on Aug. 24 after being pushed back from July 27.

The Associated Press and the News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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Jacksonville native and proud University of Florida graduate who joined News4JAX in 2016.