ACC commissioner John Swofford pushed back against the notion that the conference had given Clemson and Notre Dame last weekend off as a way to protect their College Football Playoff chances, telling ESPN the complaint “rings pretty hollow.”
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has been critical of the ACC’s decision to give both teams an open date the week before the ACC championship game, based on a reshuffling of its league schedule as a result of several postponements.
To date, both Clemson and Notre Dame have played 10 total games. That is the same number as Alabama and Florida, who will play Saturday in the SEC championship game. Through last weekend’s games, the ACC has played 85 of 96 scheduled games. No league has played as many games as the ACC has.
“I don’t think there’s anybody else that I’m aware of that has played more games than Clemson and Notre Dame, and certainly not more games than the ACC, so that rings pretty hollow to me,” Swofford told ESPN. “We look at our league. We don’t worry a whole lot about other leagues. We look at what we think is appropriate and right for the ACC. That’s not even a defense; that’s simply an explanation because the two teams playing in our championship game don’t need defending in any way shape or form.
“We’re in a pandemic. People are doing the best they can to play as many games as they can and give players the opportunity to get through a season and finish it in healthy fashion. I think it’s pretty obvious we’ve been fortunate enough to do that in the ACC as well as anybody in the country. There’s some pretty important stuff going on out there in the world, and to be concerned or to try to make an issue out of that is pretty disappointing.”
Notre Dame was set to play Wake Forest on Dec. 12 in a game that was rescheduled from September because of coronavirus issues with the Fighting Irish. Clemson did not want to travel back to Tallahassee to play Florida State after their game on Nov. 21 was postponed hours before kickoff because of a disagreement among the respective medical staffs about whether it was safe to play, and the ACC was not going to force the Tigers to go back. It is also worth pointing out that the ACC did not make Virginia reschedule its game against Florida State, which was also canceled on game day after the Cavaliers had traveled to Tallahassee.
So rather than make Notre Dame play while Clemson took the weekend off, the league decided it would determine who would play in the conference title game based on a nine-game schedule by the three teams in contention at the time. Undefeated Notre Dame got the first spot. When Clemson beat Virginia Tech on Dec. 5, it clinched its spot opposite the Fighting Irish.
“It’s a pretty simple decision, really, in terms of the fact that we have adjusted some schedules throughout the year and knew we would continue to do so,” Swofford said. “We decided to analyze the three teams that still were in the running for a championship based on the same number of games within the conference, which would be nine, and so it’s a pretty simple determination of who belongs in your championship game. The teams that are in our championship game won their way there.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney dismissed the complaints Sunday, saying, “If the ACC was trying to really protect Clemson and Notre Dame, why would we even play a game this week? I mean, if six wins can get you in the playoff, shouldn’t nine get you there? Shouldn’t 10 get you there?”
On the subject of number of wins needed and the debate surrounding Ohio State and the College Football Playoff, Swofford was not as vocal as Swinney, Sankey or others.
“That decision was made months ago by the CFP, and I think it’s a pandemic decision,” Swofford said. “It’s a tough call and was then and is now, but as I said earlier, it’s an extraordinary year and everybody has tried to get through it making the best decisions they could make, and so we move forward.”
As for whether Clemson and Notre Dame are deserving of being in the playoff should Clemson win on Saturday and both teams finish with a loss, Swofford said, “I do, without question. I’m not on the selection committee, but if I were, definitely I would look at it that way.”