Dabo might be delusional but Clemson vs. FSU was a PR nightmare
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, today we have a prime example of why (a) we should always have someone think before they speak and (b) why understanding public relations messaging can sometimes be a lost art.
By now if you follow College Football, you know what happened this past weekend when the Clemson/Florida State game got postponed just three hours before kickoff in Tallahassee.
The Tigers and their not-so-small traveling entourage were already in Florida's capitol city and well into their game-day preparations when word trickled out from the ACC office the game would not be played.
All we got Saturday morning was this super vague and poorly worded tweet/press release:
It left the Tigers with little choice other than packing their bags and heading back home, frustrated but considering how the pandemic has messed with football scheduling and games played---not totally shocked.
Things would have been fine, had not Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney poured gasoline on the fire the very next day....
Listen---being frustrated/angry about a last minute postponement is fine. I don't think anyone would begrudge the thought.
HOWEVER....it's not something you should say publicly. EVER. There are zero good things that can come out of such a statement. None...
Over the weekend, yeah, the conspiracy theorists went wild on this. Realistically, there is no universe where a major university would just find a reason to not play a football game just three hours before kickoff. None.
This isn't a political situation where the highest authorities just say or do the craziest thing they can think of and the acolytes fall into line and believe it to be true.
Would Clemson have beaten FSU in the game? Yes, absolutely. The score very likely would have been ugly. But the Seminoles would not have backed down or ran away from playing.
FSU Coach Mike Norvell was a little more diplomatic when he responded to Dabo's wild accusations and clearly wasn't thrilled about what happened either.
Now...all that being said, the ACC could easily have put the kibosh on this entire conversation had they been just a little more forthcoming. Or maybe just delayed the game for a day or two as other conferences have.
Instead, the league has largely been radio silent other than offering a brief explanation about a Clemson player who had tested asymptomatic then didn't and then did while sitting out and then returning to practice. It was a reserve player not a starter who played much.
The game could still be rescheduled for December 12th when both teams have built in open dates for makeup games. Norvell is up for it, Clemson, not so much. The Tigers say they are out roughly $300K for travel expenses and they don't want to spend the money again.
Listen, I'm not taking sides here. The ball was dropped in multiple places. Not that the coaches care, but it put ESPN/ABC in a huge pickle. They had to figure out how to get another game to fill the 12pm time slot with no notice.
It took some juggling but an agreement was reached to put a pretty good Florida/Vanderbilt game on instead. It worked.
The moral of the story here has a couple of levels: One, things like this will happen in 2020. There's no avoiding it. The fact this was the first game ppd just before kickoff is surprising considering the amount of games already played. It could very well happen again considering the soaring COVID-19 infection rates.
Two, you need to be progressive and out front in messaging. If something like this happens, EXPLAIN it rather than release the crappy, vague release the ACC put out. Explain the reasoning behind it and you have a built in crutch with player safety. Use it. Also, keep your coaches in that loop and explain to them you just can't go spouting off stupid things because you are pissed about the game.
At the end of the day, all Clemson is really out is some money. It isn't going to impact their potential College Football playoff berth. Win out from here, they're in. Period. Heck, even if they lost again to Notre Dame in the ACC Championship game, I wouldn't be surprised to see them voted in even though they shouldn't be.
As for Florida State, they've had more problems than I have to list here. Norvell saying his young team needs reps is the most truthful statement anyone has made in this argument. They do. He knows they'll take some lumps and is ok with it. They need to play.
The Seminoles will play out the season and likely not be in a bowl game and that's alright (unless you are Brother Jon). They need to just keep their heads low, learn and grow. Maybe they'll get better, maybe they won't, but they certainly don't need to be dragged into an argument/debate they have no control over thanks to an overheated opposition coach.