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Column: Florida State, Clemson butt heads as ACC remains largely silent

Norvell responds to Swinney’s comments on FSU as 2020 season takes another strange turn

Clemson v Florida State Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Unless you were living under Howard’s Rock since Sunday, you heard about the abrasive comments Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney made regarding Florida State and how they handled the postponement of Saturday’s game.

In an era where college football coaches are more and more resembling solemn politicians, careful to never slip out a quote that may seem critical, Swinney’s comments were that much more brash.

“This game was not canceled because of COVID-19. COVID-19 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,” said Swinney.

When Mike Norvell took the podium Monday for his weekly press conference, he was barraged with questions regarding Swinney’s outburst. The first-year Noles head coach was quick to contradict Swinney’s odd, gung-ho approach towards a worldwide pandemic.

“To that I’ll say that everyone here wanted to go out and compete. The protocols and procedures that are in place to ensure the safety of our student athletes is something that we don’t take lightly,” said Norvell.

“The fact that a symptomatic player practiced throughout the week and made the trip to Tallahassee raised a lot of concerns,” Norvell continued. “Everyone can handle things differently in their programs. We are concerned about our players being protected.”

Norvell was clear, concise, and calm as he shot down the immature and baseless accusations Swinney made. He explained that he had no sway in the decision to postpone the game, and the reasoning behind the postponement was “absolutely” because of COVID-19.

“This decision was made by medical professionals. There was concern in a lot of different aspects for where the situation was,” said Norvell.

Simply put, Norvell handled the moment well, correctly pointing out that “we cannot be careless with this” in regards to the pandemic. He also clearly stated a willingness and desire to make up the Clemson game in two weeks.

After Swinney initially sounded off on Florida State Sunday evening, most everyone anticipated some type of response from the ACC. Did the claims that Swinney made have any merit in the eyes of the league office?

Or was Florida State correct in taking a safe choice to not play the game? Surely the ACC would step in and add some clarity to the dispute one side or the other.


Instead, FSU and the Tigers continued to butt heads Monday with no leadership whatsoever coming from the top at the ACC to control the lazy narrative that the Noles were “ducking” a game in which Clemson was heavily favored.

A disconnect between two athletic administrations regarding any issue should always be quickly addressed by their conference. But even more so in this situation where the subject matter is a delicate issue like the handling of athletes in a worldwide pandemic.

Swinney’s allegations towards Florida State were serious. If any FBS school is allowing the quality of their team or the likelihood of a win affect their COVID-19 decision-making, that calls into question the legitimacy and integrity of the entire testing system.

It’s simply strange to see no response or leadership from the ACC toward Swinney’s interview on Sunday night. The reasoning behind the silence is unclear. It isn’t outlandish to question whether Clemson’s winning history (and what they have meant to the conference) the past decade swayed their decision to stay silent after Swinney’s comments.

Incredibly, Swinney even doubled down Monday evening. He responded to what Norvell said in his press conference earlier in the day with further critical comments.

A single interview with the lame-duck ACC commissioner John Swofford notwithstanding, it would be a grave error by the ACC to not address the situation more publicly with an official statement in the coming days.

If anything, a decision needs to be made soon from the ACC on the possible Dec. 12 make-up date for the FSU-Clemson game. Until they speak, Norvell and Swinney’s contradictory comments will linger in the air like the very pandemic that caused this ACC public relations blunder.

If you read back in March what has happened between the two universities the past few days, it would sound like some sort of demented ad-lib. So much has changed since the day sports was canceled and the FSU men’s basketball team was warming up on the court in Greensboro to face the Tigers in a game and tournament that was never played.

If Swinney wants a chance to compete for another championship, an opportunity the Noles basketball team didn’t get in the spring, he’ll need to alter his stance on a pandemic that can rapidly spread. Florida State, Clemson, and every college team need to work together for sports to continue, not be divisive and point fingers at each other.

As college programs continue to navigate the murky waters of fielding athletics during a pandemic, FSU can feel good about their new head coach and his commitment to prioritizing the safety of his team over anything else.

“We love this game,” Norvell said. “But it’s not worth it compromising the right thing, doing the right thing, and putting these guys at risk. We are going to continue to operate at those standards.”