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Trump to Big Ten: Play!

Ohio Stadium

Injecting himself in the decision to postpone the 2020 Big Ten season, President Donald Trump lobbied Commissioner Kevin Warren to immediately plan on a start of a fall football season, injecting politics into what league leaders said was a science-based decision.

That the call was a nakedly political act is pretty apparent. Trump didn’t bother contacting Pac-12 officials about that league’s decision to postpone play, and a quick look at the electoral map shows why he targeted the Big Ten. The states in the Pac-12 are, by and large, not up for grabs in the fall elections: there’s no way Trump and his campaign thinks California, Oregon or Washington State are in play. (Heck, Trump is down in Arizona as well.) But the Big Ten map contains several states targeted by the Trump campaign as being key for reelection: Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota.

Hence the call, and the positioning of Trump as a savior of Midwest football.

In fact, Trump tweeted that the conference was on the “one-yard line” in terms of a renewed 2020 Big Ten season thanks to his efforts. From ESPN:

“I think it was very productive about getting [the] Big Ten playing again and immediately,” Trump said. “Let’s see what happens. He’s a great guy. It’s a great conference, tremendous teams. We’re pushing very hard. … I think they want to play, and the fans want to see it, and the players have a lot at stake, including possibly playing in the NFL. You have a lot of great players in that conference.

“We had a very good conversation, very productive, and maybe we’ll be very nicely surprised. They had it closed up, and I think they’d like to see it open, along with a lot of other football that’s being played right now.”

But Warren doesn’t have the power to unilaterally launch the 2020 Big Ten season: that comes after a vote of league presidents, who have their own motivations for playing the 2020 Big Ten season as soon as possible: money in university coffers. And while there are plans floating around for a return of play as soon as November, Big Ten officials must tackle three big issues before that happens: management of COVID-19 hotspots on campuses (which, in all fairness, seems to be managed better by Big Ten schools than Southern schools planning on a football season, though the news that the University of Iowa canceled all fall sports after 93 out of 815 COVID-19 tests came back positive last week is not good news), robust and affordable testing protocols, and more data on the impact of COVID-19 on myocarditis, a heart condition linked to college athletes.

So take the Trump phone call for what it was: an needless attempt to politicize a decision not originally based on politics. Everyone wants to see Big Ten football return as soon as possible, but beware bad actors with the wrong motivations.

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