In what was a rant only fit for 2020, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney accused heavy-underdog Florida State of using the coronavirus as an excuse to get out of Saturday’s game, which was postponed just hours before kickoff.
Swinney learned the night before that one of his players had tested positive for COVID-19, and medical personnel from both schools could not agree it was safe to play the game set in Tallahassee, Fla.
“This game was not canceled because of COVID,” Swiney told reporters on Sunday. “COVID was just an excuse to cancel the game. And to be honest with you, I don’t think it has anything to do with their players. I have no doubt that their players wanted to play, and would have played. And same with the coaches. To me, the Florida State administration forfeited the game.”
The pandemic has upended college football all season, leading to postponements and conferences starting to play games at different times, though a coach eviscerating an opponent for pulling out of a game seemed to be a first of its kind.
Swiney said Clemson followed all COVID-related protocols, implying that Florida State was afraid to play in the game because it was 35-point underdogs, according to sportsbooks.
The player, an unidentified backup offensive lineman, had displayed what Swinney called “mild” symptoms during the week despite continuing to test negative for the virus until Friday.
But testing for the coronavirus is not considered perfect and carriers could still be contagious regardless of the symptoms they show.
Florida State athletic director David Coburn told the Associated Press that “we listened to our medical folks” and “decided it wasn’t safe to play today.”
Saturday was supposed to mark the return of star Clemson quarterback and likely first-overall 2021 NFL Draft pick Trevor Lawrence, who missed the previous two weeks after testing positive for COVID-19.
Swiney, whose No. 4 Tigers are fighting for a spot in the College Football Playoff, argued that Florida State should have never pulled out of the game because Boston College still faced Clemson even after Lawrence tested positive for the virus three days before the matchup.
“Trevor practiced all week except for Thursday,” Swinney said, “and BC didn’t have any problem coming down here to play.”
“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 earache 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.”
Before Swiney’s tirade Florida State said it hoped to play Clemson in December but it is unclear whether the teams will be able to schedule another game given their respective schedules.
“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 [in travel costs] that’s gone out the window. … If the standard to play was zero positive tests, we never would’ve had a season.”