D’Angelo: SEC, Gators pay price because they decided to actually play games, not manipulate schedule like ACC
The Florida Gators played a game Saturday. And although it did not turn out the way you might expect for a team favored by more than three touchdowns, Florida – and the SEC - decided it would play for the integrity of the sport, and not run from competition.
Unlike the ACC and commissioner John Swofford - whose decision to arbitrarily eliminate games for non-COVID reasons becomes even more pronounced and disgraceful in light of Florida’s upset loss. The ACC locked up its conference title game two weeks ago by telling Notre Dame and Clemson, “don’t worry, we got this. Both you can put up your feet on the final weekend of the regular season. We will clear the path for both of you, not just to get to Charlotte, but also the College Football Playoff, because, hey, in this year we can do anything we want at any time.”
Including duck competition.
So, what happened was that Notre Dame’s regular-season finale at Wake Forest was whacked and a game Clemson had postponed at FSU was not rescheduled … much to the delight of Dabo Swinney. And this is separate from games being canceled because of the coronavirus. When COVID strikes a program, nothing can be done. These games were canceled for no other reason than to benefit the teams and conference.
Now the reasonable thinking is if Clemson wins the rematch Saturday in the ACC title game, both teams, with one loss, likely will grab playoff spots.
This decision eliminated Miami from contention. No matter what happened on the field Saturday, Miami earned the right to have hope, no matter how slim, of getting into the ACC championship game going into the North Carolina game. And Manny Diaz did a good job of holding back his true feelings when the ACC took that away when he said, “it’s a little strange just to kind of have games taken away.”
Certainly, the Miami team that melted down in a 62-26 loss to North Carolina has no business being in the ACC title game. But that’s not for the league to determine 10 days before that game is played. And for those who shouted it does not matter, Clemson would have rolled FSU if they played … maybe. But what happened at Florida Saturday is exactly why the ACC should not be predetermining who wins games.
Florida was a prohibitive favorite, at home, playing a wounded rival that with the win changed much of the narrative on its season.
Clemson would have been a prohibitive favorite, on the road, playing a wounded rival with a win that would have changed much of the narrative on its season.
But of course, that would not have pleased Dabo. And it would not have been good for the ACC if Clemson were forced to reschedule the game … and lost. Or if Notre Dame had played Saturday at Wake Forest ... and lost.
But because the SEC didn’t try to manipulate the schedule by giving itself a better chance of putting two teams into the playoff, it has to pay the price.
While this was not the Gators we’d seen most of the year (except perhaps defensively), they still had a chance to win until a shoe sailed through the thick fog late into the night at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. A clutch 57-yard field goal later and a 37-34 upset was born.
If the SEC followed the ACC blueprint and told Alabama and Florida to sit home Saturday, and the Gators upset the Tide this Saturday in Atlanta, the SEC would have been guaranteed two spots in the playoff.
Now, Florida has no shot.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey had every right to stick his nose in the ACC’s cowardly decision. Not only did it impact the ACC, but it impacted his conference. If Clemson actually had to, gasp, play a football game Saturday and was upset, the Tigers would have been eliminated from a possible playoff spot.
The team that would have benefited most: the team sitting at No. 5 in the CFP standings, Texas A&M of the SEC.
Sankey doubled down on his criticism of the ACC on Saturday and that hurt Dabo’s feelings.
This is 20/20 (in more ways than one) Dabo on Sunday:
"I would've loved to play this past weekend. I had no problem with that. I didn't make the decision.”
This is Dabo the week after Florida State made the responsible decision to put its players’ health and safety ahead of a football game:
"If they want to play Clemson, in my opinion, they need to come to Clemson or they need to pay for all expenses. Other than that, there's no reason for us to play them.”
Which is it: “loved to play” or "no reason to play?”
We all know Clemson’s and the ACC’s answer.