“Great News: BIG TEN FOOTBALL IS BACK. All teams to participate. Thank you to the players, coaches, parents, and all school representatives. Have a FANTASTIC SEASON! It is my great honor to have helped!!!” President Donald Trump tweeted on September 16.
The Big Ten conference, one of the “Power 5” alongside the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Southeast Conference (SEC), the Big 12, and the Pac-12, became the fourth major conference to announce that it would play a college football season this fall, reversing their prior announcement that the season would be postponed. The season will begin on October 24, and will be nine games long. The ACC, SEC, and Big 12 started their seasons earlier this month.
The Pac-12 — the conference in which both University of California (UC) Berkeley and Stanford University play — initially delayed all fall sports until January 1. However, once it was the only Power 5 conference not playing in the fall, the Pac-12 CEO group met several times to discuss an earlier return, which concluded with the decision that they would in fact play in 2020, with a seven game season beginning on November 6. Governor Gavin Newsom has said the conference will not face pushback from the state of California. Newsom said, “There’s nothing in the guidelines saying the Pac-12 cannot move forward.”
President Trump had been pushing for college football to start the season for a while, despite the risks that are posed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On August 10 he tweeted, “Play College Football,” and later that week talked on the phone with Clemson quarterback and Heisman Trophy favorite Trevor Lawrence about their mutual desire for the season to happen this fall.
On September 1, Trump called Kevin Warren, the commissioner of the Big Ten conference, to discuss the season, which both parties called a “productive conversation.” Warren said that the president “Made it very clear that he would help in any way that he possibly could to help us return to competition.” A White House administration official said that Trump has spoken with a variety of coaches and athletic directors in the Big Ten, and that the members of the administration had made over three hundred calls related to this issue.
Many believe that Trump’s interest in having a college football season is political, and that he focused on the Big Ten Conference in particular because a large portion of the teams are from midwestern states that could swing the election in his favor. The conference has five universities located in states that were decided by 1.5 percent or less in the last election, including Michigan and Michigan State, both located in the state where Trump pulled off an upset when he narrowly defeated Hillary Clinton by 0.3 percent.
Ohio State and Iowa also play in the Big Ten, both of which are in states Trump won comfortably in 2016, but according to recent polling appear to be much closer this year. The Pac-12, on the other hand, contains mostly schools located in solid blue states like California, Oregon, and Washington.
While many are pleased that the college football season has started earlier than originally planned, others have criticized Trump’s role in the matter as the latest example of his willingness to sacrifice American lives for his political gain.