From the moment the Big Ten decided to postpone the conference’s 2020 college football season, it seemed inevitable that President Trump would weigh in on the decision.
Trump, who has spent his entire presidency making decisions motivated by personal and political gain, sees what’s at stake with the prospect of no Big Ten football. It means that football-loving voters in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio would be confronted with the reality that a failed national response to the coronavirus pandemic forced the conference presidents to make that postponement decision.
Even as the SEC, ACC and Big 12 decided to go forward with football, we’ve seen campuses and programs look to contain outbreaks. Which brings us to the latest push from Trump this week as he seemingly ignores that the Pac-12 also canceled fall sports.
Trump tweeted that he had a conversation with Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, and Trump added that the progress for an accelerated Big Ten return was on the “one yard line!”
But a Big Ten return before January isn’t as imminent as the president implied.
In the aftermath of that tweet, several reporters — citing unnamed sources and coaches — expressed renewed optimism that a season could happen by Thanksgiving or even October. Yet, when it comes to the Big Ten’s actual return, the decision falls on the school presidents — not the coaches or athletic directors.
And according to USA TODAY Sports’ Dan Wolken, it’ll take a lot more than political pressure to move the needle on football Saturdays in Ann Arbor and Happy Valley.
According to a person with knowledge of the Big Ten’s discussions with the White House, who spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity, the conference is going to lay out a series of requests for the White House, many of which are yet to be fully formed, that would encompass everything from rapid testing to help with a contact tracing program to medical equipment to resources that would help sports besides football.
Basically, the Big Ten would need federal resources — we’re talking access to rapid tests and equipment for every program (including non-revenue sports) — for the presidents to reconsider the postponement vote. And the response would have to be convincing enough to have 60 percent of the conference presidents approve it AFTER the league’s medical advisory board signed off on it.
In the initial vote, 11 out of the 14 presidents voted to postpone the season. So, five presidents would need to change their minds.
This won’t be a quick process that would bring college football back to the Big Ten in a matter of weeks. No matter what, the Big Ten season would be starting later than the other power-5 schools.
Trump wants Big Ten football because it will help him politically. But it will take work just as the U.S. continues to face 1,000 daily COVID deaths. It remains to be seen if the White House is actually willing to do that work.