(Headline USA) President Donald Trump was quick to spike the ball in celebration when the Big Ten announced the return of fall football at colleges clustered in some of the Midwest battleground states critical to his reelection effort.
“I’m the one who got football back,” he said.
Trumps efforts to reverse last month’s decision to postpone fall sports in the conference during ongoing coronavirus pandemic were one of several factors that led officials to change course.
Some state officials were threatening to bring lawsuits alleging the conference and its schools lacked the proper permits to unilaterally cancel the season.
It also was under enormous pressure to restart the season from athletes, parents, coaches and college towns that rely on football Saturdays to fill restaurants and hotels and provide much-needed tax revenue.
Still, the president may have the most to gain from the positive developments.
Democrats, along with their left-wing media allies, frequently blame Trump’s freewheeling, confrontational and often polarizing style for a litany of crises, including the coronavirus and ongoing race-riots in major urban areas.
“There are voters who voted for him in 2016 who don’t want to vote for him this time—mostly because they don’t like him personally,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist.
“Those voters need to be reminded why they supported him in the first place,” Conant continued. “It’s issues like this where he takes a controversial position they agree with and delivers.”
For weeks, Trump allied himself with the effort. He publicly and privately prodded the conference to reverse its Aug. 11 decision to play football next spring.
When the conference announced Wednesday it would begin play Oct. 23 under strict coronavirus prevention protocols, Trump was eager to claim his share of the credit.
“I called the commissioner a couple of weeks ago and we started really putting a lot of pressure on, frankly,” he said at a news conference.
It is a moment that could help Trump on the margins in key states such as Pennsylvania, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin where schools are now scheduled to play their first games less than two weeks before Election Day.
“It is the sort of thing that will excite Trump’s base to donate or harangue their friends to go out and vote for Trump or remind them to send in their absentee ballots,” said Karen Kedrowski, a political scientist at Iowa State University.
“In some of these states where the races are expected to be very tight, you might not have to move the needle much to help make a difference.”
His advisors argued that the Big Ten episode underscores how the president’s unconventional style—his Twitter rebukes and rhetorical bluster—gets things done.
“College football is an enormous part of fall Saturdays for millions of Americans, and it is coming back, thanks in no small part to the leadership of President Trump,” said Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien.
“We know that Joe Biden would not have pushed for this, since he has looked for every reason to keep our country closed for as long as possible, because he believes it would help him politically,” he added.
The Big Ten reversal also syncs with Trump’s efforts to show the nation is on the glidepath to normalcy under his stewardship.
The president had criticized Democrats who “don’t want football back for political reasons” and accused Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of keeping Michigan and Michigan State off the field.
Whitmer’s draconian regulations were the source of repeated controversy during the peak of the lockdown, often going hand-in-hand with a clearly partisan agenda.
She notably was investigated for a no-bid contract with a Democratic consulting firm that the state’s health department granted to conduct contact-tracing.
Whitmer said the Big Ten decision to reverse course was made by members of the conference.
She said she had spoken with other governors about the prospect of allowing spectators to attend games but cautioned that COVID-19 “is still a very real threat.”
“If we want to preserve that as an option, we’ve got to be serious about masking up,” she said.
All 14 schools in the Big Ten have opted to scale back in-person learning and pleaded with students to stop parties and congregating in large groups as the U.S. death toll from the virus nears 200,000.
However, Big Ten officials cited improvement in same-day coronavirus testing capabilities as a key factor in their reversal.
Asked about Trump’s role in bringing about the about-face, Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said Trump made clear “the Big Ten was important to him.”’
“I think he drew attention to Big Ten football and had a solution,” Alvarez said. “So how much that had to do with us being back on the field, I don’t know that answer.”
After calling Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren on Sept. 1, Trump expressed confidence that players would be back on the field soon, tweeting that a return to play was “On the one-yard line.”
Biden, for his part, tried to lay the blame for canceled sports events squarely at Trump’s feet with an ad that aired days before Trump’s call to the Big Ten commissioner.
“Trump put America on the sidelines. Let’s get back in the game,” flashes on the screen with images of empty stadiums at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and elsewhere.
Trump on Wednesday slammed the ad as “totally fake.”
While Trump repeatedly decried the Big Ten, until Wednesday he had far less to say about the postponement of fall sports by the Pac-12, which includes universities in Democratic-leaning California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington as well as battleground Arizona.
On Wednesday, Trump called on the Pac-12 to “get going” and resume play.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press