Kent, Carlee and Alfred

Maybe half a million people flocked to the Black Hills for this year’s Sturgis rally. And if Death didn’t actually roll in on a Harley, it came along for the ride.

“The rally epicenter, Meade County, is now red-hot with new cases, reaching a per capita rate that is similar to the hardest-hit Southern states,” reports the Associated Press.

Fewer than 30,000 people live in rural Meade. But we’re going to find out what it’s like to hold, not one, but six super-spreader events in a compact university city of more than 141,000 souls.

And this in the “hardest-hit” Southern state of all.

As many as 88,000 people will crowd into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium every game day Saturday.

No mask requirements. No proof of vaccinations. No Covid testing. No problem.

That seems like a dirty trick to play on a host community.

But if this year’s Gator football season won’t exactly be a victimless crime, it is certainly a no fingerprints offense.

“The simple answer is Florida will not be requiring vaccines or a negative test to attend any event on campus, whether it’s classes or a football game,” UF Athletic Director Scott Strickland has said. “…the authority to require that does not rest with our state university campuses.”

Honestly, I have been a member of the Gator Nation since 1973. And I’ve never been so embarrassed by – no, ashamed of – my flagship.

“I literally don’t have that power,” UF President W. Kent Fuchs responded when faculty asked for more protections – like a mask mandate – before walking into the classroom.

Perhaps someone told University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides that he didn’t have that authority either. He went to the state’s Supreme Court to prove otherwise. And LSU is requiring proof of vaccinations or a negative Covid test to attend its football games.

But you don’t have to look that far afield to find examples of gutty leadership in the face of irrational state right-to-infect dictates.

Our school superintendent and four of her board members are risking their pay and their very jobs to do the right thing…require masks in the classroom. And their resolve has inspired other school districts to follow suit.

“The disconnect between the school system and the university has cast their respective leaders as the unwitting stars of a morality play,” reports The Chronicle of Higher Eduction, hardly a practitioner of “gotcha” journalism.

Fuchs, The Chronicle notes, is “not bucking the system. He’s not doing what the university’s physicians and scientists have told local school officials that they absolutely must do, now that the more-contagious Delta variant is on the loose…”

To be fair, the Chronicle notes that as politicians “tighten their grips on public universities,” presidents like Fuchs are having to come “to terms with what they perceive to be their diminished authority.”

Still, there is the power of the office and the power of the bully pulpit. Seemingly deprived of the former, Fuchs exhibits no appetite for the latter.

Superintendent Carlee Simon has become a national hero for standing up to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

With his “What, me worry?” grin and hapless shrug, Fuchs seems content to be UF’s Alfred E. Newman.

Listen, by season’s end, the Gators may very well be No. 1 in the rankings. Anything can happen.

But getting there will require the kind of courage on the field that is nowhere in evidence up in the President’s Box.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com. Email him at ron@freegnv.com.

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