A day after Florida State abruptly postponed its scheduled game against Clemson due to a positive COVID-19 test among the Tigers’ roster, Dabo Swinney lambasted FSU’s administration for the decision.
Swinney said Sunday that Clemson followed all required protocols when it traveled with a player who had shown prior symptoms for COVID-19 but did not receive a positive test result until the team had arrived in Tallahassee, Florida, on Friday night. Swinney implied FSU’s administrators wanted out of the game and simply used the positive test as an excuse to cancel.
“This game was not canceled because of COVID,” Swinney said. “COVID was just an excuse to cancel the game. I have no doubt their players wanted to play and would have played. And same with the coaches. To me, the Florida State administration forfeited the game.”
Swinney said this was not the first time a situation like this had occurred this season and that no previous games were impacted, comparing the situation to that of quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who practiced throughout the week prior to his positive COVID-19 test the Thursday before Clemson faced Boston College.
“Trevor practiced all week except for Thursday,” Swinney said, “and BC didn’t have any problem coming down here to play.”
Clemson athletics director Dan Radikovich reiterated that the school followed ACC protocols for safety, and said Clemson’s medical staff was comfortable moving forward with competition.
The player, a backup offensive lineman, showed “mild” symptoms early in the week, Swinney said, but continued to test negative and was allowed to practice, while also wearing masks and visors and maintaining required social distancing requirements away from competition. By the time the team traveled to Florida State on Friday — using nine buses for extra distancing, Swinney said — the player was no longer showing symptoms and was allowed to accompany the team to Tallahassee. Once the Tigers arrived, however, test results showed the player was positive for the virus.
Swinney then said the team “met the standard to play” and “mitigated everything” during meetings, practices, housing and travel, noting the “circus tent” the school erected in the hotel parking lot for team meetings and meals.
Florida State said that, in a similar situation earlier this year, it held a coach and player back from travel who had not yet tested positive but did show symptoms of the virus.
Swinney said that should not have been a reason for postponing the game, as it is not required by the ACC.
“So now we’re changing the rules? You either trust the test or you don’t,” Swinney said. “If the test is negative, we’re going to tell guys they can’t play anyway? That’s why we test. If a guy has an ear ache or a runny nose and tests negative all week, and we’re going to say we won’t take you? You either trust the test or you don’t and the rules are what they are. There’s been plenty of games played this year where guys were not positive one week and positive the next week. This is a virus. We all know what we’re dealing with. The bottom line is the rules were put in play for everyone and we more than met the standard.”
Radikovich said Clemson offered to undergo additional testing on Saturday or Sunday, with the two teams then playing the game Sunday or Monday, but Florida State declined.
“We were willing to do whatever was necessary to play while in Tallahassee,” he said. “We feel we offered additional solutions to make it work.”
The ACC’s guidelines mirror that of the Centers for Disease Control, which require anyone who tests positive for the virus to be isolated for at least 10 days, while anyone in contact with that person must be quarantined for 14 days. The ACC does not allow anyone to “test out” of protocols. The league and the CDC determine “contact” as anyone within six feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes within a 24-hour period, however the use of masks would potentially negate that timeline. The ACC has said, however, that individual schools, states and municipalities will have varying definitions used for contact tracing, which helps explain why Clemson and Florida State might disagree on a specific standard.
Radikovich said the travel costs associated with Clemson’s trip to Tallahassee exceeded $300,000 and Swinney made it clear he has no interest in rescheduling the game against FSU if the Seminoles don’t reimburse those costs.
“We were there. We were ready. We met the standards to play,” Swinney said. “In my opinion they forfeited the game. That’s $300,000 that’s gone out the window. … If the standard to play was zero positive tests, we never would’ve had a season.”
Radakovich told ESPN on Saturday that there are “issues associated with rescheduling that will be discussed with the ACC in the coming week.”
Florida State announced a 20% budget cut for athletics in August and furloughs for employees last week, with AD David Coburn telling the school’s board of trustees that more cuts were likely as the department faces a massive budget deficit due to COVID-19.
Florida State was a five-touchdown underdog in the game, which many Clemson fans have pegged as the real rationale for the postponement. Swinney, for his part, wouldn’t explicitly say so.
“I can’t answer that,” he said. “I just know the standard to play was met.”
Swinney said the players were extremely disappointed with the decision, with several, including Lawrence, making their feelings known on social media.
“They were ticked,” Swinney said of his players. “Most people have no idea what goes into a week’s worth of preparation. You put in everything you’ve got, and you’ve sacrificed so much. These guys have had such commitment and buy-in to the protocols, and we’ve gone to such extremes to be able to play. I’d be the first one [to agree with the decision], if there was an issue like you’ve seen at other places where the standard’s not met, but that was not the case.”
Swinney said he has not spoken with FSU coach Mike Norvell, who issued a statement Saturday after the postponement was announced.
“Our first priority is the health of our student-athletes, and I appreciate the protocols that have been put in place by FSU and the ACC to ensure everyone’s health while allowing us to play this season,” Norvell said in the statement. “It’s unfortunate that we will not have the opportunity to compete today, but we hope to be able to play Clemson in December. I am thankful for the support and coordination between our administration, Clemson and the ACC office. Our team will now turn our focus to hosting Virginia next week.”
FSU could not be immediately reached for a response following Swinney’s comments Sunday.