Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said his team met the medical standard to play against Florida State and believes the Seminoles called off the game because of reasons other than COVID-19.
“This game was not canceled because of COVID. COVID was just an excuse to cancel the game," an angry Swinney said Sunday night.
The fourth-ranked Tigers had arrived in Tallahassee, Florida on Friday when they learned a reserve offensive lineman had tested positive in the team's latest testing. Clemson quickly isolated the unidentified player and sent him back to campus.
Swinney said players had eaten breakfast under a large “Ringling Brothers” circus type-tent in their hotel parking lot for final preparations when they learned they would not play.
"We listened to our medical folks and their assessment of the risk and we decided it wasn’t safe to play today,” Florida State athletic director David Coburn told the AP.
Clemson administrators offered additional testing to satisfy Florida State's hesitation and playing the game later Saturday or Sunday or Monday. All suggestions were turned down and the Atlantic Coast Conference announced Saturday that medical personnel from both sides could not agree the game would be safe to play.
“To me the Florida State administration forfeited the game and if they want to play Clemson, in my opinion, they need to come to Clemson or they need to pay for all expenses,” Swinney said. “Other than that, there's no reason for us to play them.”
The Tigers (7-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) were nearly five-touchdown favorites against the Seminoles (2-6, 1-6) in coach Mike Norvell's first season.
The trip cost the Clemson athletic department about $300,000 according to athletic director Dan Radakovich.
Radakovich said he and Clemson would work with the ACC about rescheduling the contest. The Tigers face Pitt on Saturday in their final home game before heading to Virginia Tech on Dec. 5 for what was expected to be their last game of the regular season.
Clemson is off Dec. 12. The ACC Championship game is set for Dec. 19.
Radakovich was comfortable his school did everything possible to keep their players and staff, and those of the other team safe from the coronavirus.
“We have followed protocol,” he said.
Swinney said he's attending medical meetings where procedures for a late positive test were discussed and debated. Travel rosters were expanded for such reasons, the coach said.
If a late positive test can call off a game, why play the season at all, Swinney asked.
It's not the first time Clemson football has been hit by the global coronavirus pandemic.
Heisman Trophy contending quarterback Trevor Lawrence tested positive the Thursday before the Tigers played Boston College on Oct. 31. Lawrence also missed Clemson's game at No. 2 Notre Dame — the Tigers lone loss this season and first regular-season defeat since 2017 — a week later as he followed guidelines for his return.
That was supposed to happen against the Seminoles. “Man, we were ready to play,” Lawrence said on Twitter soon after the postponement.
Swinney has not talked with Norvell and does not blame Florida State coaches or players for not playing.
“I feel bad for their players, too. There ain't no way anybody can convince me their kids didn't want to play,” Swinney said.
The Tigers were disappointed in the lost opportunity. By the time Clemson's kicks off against Pitt next Saturday, it will have gone three weeks between games as it vies for a sixth straight ACC title and fifth national championship game appearance since 2015.
“It is what it is. We feel great, we're healthy, we're ready to go, we were in a good place, ready for kickoff,” Swinney said. “We'll just pick up where we left off.”
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