One day after Florida State abruptly postponed its scheduled game against Clemson because of 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 of COVID-19 but did not receive a positive test result until after the team arrived in Tallahassee, Florida, on Friday night. Swinney implied that FSU's administrators wanted out of the game and 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."
FSU declined to comment on Swinney's comments Sunday, but coach Mike Norvell said in a statement Saturday that the school's first priority is the "health of our student-athletes."
"... 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."
An FSU spokesman said the school would continue to work with the ACC to reschedule the game.
Swinney said Sunday that this was not the first time a situation such as 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 athletic director Dan Radakovich 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 wearing masks and visors and maintaining required social distancing 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 that 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 back from travel a coach and player 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 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."
Radakovich said Clemson offered to undergo additional testing 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 those of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which require anyone who tests positive for the virus to be isolated for at least 10 days and anyone in contact with that person to 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 6 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 also said 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.
Radakovich said the travel costs associated with Clemson's trip to Tallahassee exceeded $300,000, and Swinney made it clear that 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 athletic director 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."