Florida State coach denies Dabo Swinney’s claim FSU used COVID to avoid playing Clemson

Jesse Pantuosco
November 23, 2020 - 3:20 pm
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Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had plenty to say after Saturday’s aborted game between the fourth-ranked Tigers and Florida State, accusing the Seminoles of sidestepping their conference foe under the guise of COVID. “This game was not canceled because of COVID,” said an outraged Swinney on Sunday. “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."

Florida State coach Mike Norvell has since responded to Swinney’s explosive accusation, adamantly refuting the idea his team would use COVID as an excuse not to play. “We were excited to play this game,” insisted Norwell via ESPN’s David Hale. “We’re a young team that needs every rep we can get. I’m not concerned what any other coach says or thinks.”

Upon their arrival in Tallahassee Friday, Clemson notified officials that one of their players had tested positive for the virus. Clemson offered to retest its players Saturday and even push the game back a day or two if needed, but Florida State stood by its decision not to play. The ACC rivals are optimistic the game will be rescheduled for next month, but with only a handful of weeks remaining in the regular season, the margin for error is razor thin.

Eager for redemption after suffering a heartbreaking loss to Notre Dame in its last game—the program’s first regular-season defeat in three years—Clemson had hoped to get back on track against the Seminoles, but were denied that opportunity. Despite assurances Clemson had followed all the proper protocols, FSU ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the risk.

“Football coaches are not doctors. Some of us might think we are, but there's a reason why medical advisers make decisions based on the information that is provided,” said Norvell, who missed a game as a result of his own COVID battle earlier this year. “It's unfortunate that opportunity has been delayed, but there's a reason people making those decisions have that responsibility."

Swinney, who contends his team “met the standard to play,” argued that Boston College had no qualms playing two days after star quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the likely No. 1 pick in next year’s draft, received his COVID diagnosis. “Trevor practiced all week except for Thursday and BC didn’t have any problem coming down here to play.”

The Clemson player who tested positive was reportedly a backup offensive lineman. While the Swinney-coached Tigers remain an ACC juggernaut, Florida State has not been competitive of late, posting losing records in each of its last three seasons including a dismal 2-6 mark through eight games in 2020.

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