Sudden postponement of Clemson-FSU shows college football's struggle to get to finish line

Pete Thamel
·5 min read

Not long after the sudden postponement of No. 4 Clemson’s game with Florida State on Saturday morning, the type of trash talk that’s unique to 2020 emerged. The game was called off after a controversy emerged about a Clemson player’s positive COVID-19 test, but enough ambiguity existed to leave hard feelings.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence took to Twitter and tossed some shade: “Man, we were ready to play.” Clemson tailback Darien Rencher mocked FSU for not agreeing to play the game later in the weekend, saying it “was not Clemson’s fault that this happened” and placed blame by saying “the suspects could possibly be seen wearing maroon & gold.” Even former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley taunted the Seminoles, tweeting, “Florida State, whether you lose today or a few days from now won’t matter. Get it over with already. Stop stalling.”

Those are, of course, the colors of Florida State. And the depth of the tension from the game being called off can be underscored by the fact that it wasn’t immediately rescheduled for Dec. 12, when both have open dates. This was the first game postponed on an actual gameday, which ratcheted up the attention.

There are hard feelings on both sides, grumbling and certainly some lingering bitterness. And the biggest takeaway may be that this type of drumbeat over games being played is only going to get louder and louder as the season goes on, motivations vary and roster numbers dwindle.

The Clemson-FSU postponement marked the 18th postponement or cancelation this weekend, which is nearly 30% of the games. That number has risen from 10 games two weeks ago to 15 last week, and there’s little to think the trend slows, as it’s indicative of the sharp uptick of COVID-19 cases across the country. We’re trending to where half of the sport’s games being wiped off the schedule has become the expectation.

“Certainly, this is going to be more of an issue than it has been over the last two months,” a Power Five athletic director told Yahoo Sports on Saturday morning. “It puts the entire postseason and bowls and games outside of the College Football Playoff in danger.”

Clemson's game against Florida State on Saturday was postponed. (John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Clemson's game against Florida State on Saturday was postponed. (John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In the postponement of FSU and Clemson, there are two distinct sides, which Yahoo Sports cobbled together through interviews with multiple sources.

A Clemson backup offensive lineman tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday. He took the test on Friday morning in Clemson and the team was informed on Friday night of his positive test after arriving in Tallahassee.

The player had gone home during Clemson’s off weekend last week and had not felt well. He took an antigen test at home and was negative. He returned to campus and was held out of practice on Monday. He felt better on Tuesday and was cleared to practice and tested negative for the virus on Wednesday. So while he showed some symptoms, they were not classic COVID-19 symptoms – loss of taste/smell or respiratory issues. They were more flu-like symptoms, which doctors waited to dissipate before clearing him to practice.

A Clemson source stressed that the school’s doctors were “very much in tune” and “cautious” with the player’s ability to practice. They also stressed the lengths Clemson has gone through at their facility with protective equipment and social distancing that’s allowed them to play eight games this season.

But the positive tests and the fact that the player had shown symptoms during the week was concerning to FSU officials, according to a source. FSU medical officials were worried that the symptomatic player could have passed the virus to teammates in his position group who’d yet to test positive. The offensive line is obviously one of the areas on the field where there’s concern about spread, and that contributed heavily to FSU’s hesitation to play the game.

FSU officials were also concerned about the messaging to their own players, both about health and safety and looking hypocritical. FSU has upheld stringent standards, including not letting players go home for break. FSU's last positive was coach Mike Norvell in September when he missed the game with Miami. What kind of message would FSU be sending if they played a game and potentially exposed their defensive linemen to an offensive line with members that could potentially be carrying the virus?

Some of the lingering tension from the game’s postponement will be tied to a lack of flexibility in the game being rescheduled. Clemson offered to test again, both rapid tests or antigen, and play the game later Saturday, Sunday or even Monday. They did not get a lot of engagement from FSU on those requests. The measure of that tension may best be gauged by if the game ends up being rescheduled at all.

“We’re disappointed the game wasn’t played,” said another source at Clemson. “All the medical procedures and contract tracing through the trip were followed. We’re disappointed we weren’t mutually able to get to the point of comfort there.”

It’s completely understandable that Florida State didn’t want to expose their program to any unnecessary risk. And it’s also understandable that Clemson wanted to try and do everything to accommodate to play.

This game will resonate as the perfect debate topic, as there’s no right answer. The only thing everyone in college football can agree upon is that the next few weeks are going to carry similar tension as games disappear off the schedule and league offices scramble to preserve the millions of dollars of revenue that each game holds.

The sport is sputtering to the finish, so much so that each passing week exponentially increases the likelihood of significant inequity in the résumés of the teams vying for the College Football Playoff.

If anything, the bickering around Florida State and Clemson is more of a public manifestation of the types of arguments that have gone on in football offices and conference offices the past few weeks. This one just happened to occur on gameday and the debate carried out on Twitter.

Expect the volume to only increase as college football slogs through the final few weeks. The story of Florida State and Clemson is really the story of college football for the remainder of 2020.

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