Opinion: Big Ten got played by President Trump, and White House is eager to celebrate

SportsPulse: Paul Myerberg breaks down what the Big Ten’s restart means for the college football landscape and why a playoff and title game without the conference involved was always going to be questioned.

USA TODAY

Whether the Big Ten made the right call by deciding to play football this fall, this much is certain: It got played by President Trump. 

From the moment Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren and Trump spoke by phone on Sept. 1, any outcome that ended with the league reversing its early decision to postpone football was going to result in Trump declaring that he made it happen to boost his favorability in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota in the midst of a campaign where he is behind in the polls. 

“That call was probably the most pivotal call in Big Ten football this year,” a senior White House official told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. (And yes, this White House official, as well as two others on the call, requested anonymity even though this isn’t a topic that would necessitate anonymity, but here we are.)

The problem is, Trump taking credit for the Big Ten returning doesn’t exactly comport with the facts. 

Though Warren and Trump absolutely spoke, and Trump certainly expressed his desire for the Big Ten to play football this fall during that conversation, there’s no evidence that the White House took any other tangible action to make the season happen. 

Understanding the potential pitfalls in getting too deeply involved with a White House that was eager to provide COVID-19 testing resources for football teams while other more essential industries go without, the Big Ten never went any further than Warren’s phone call on trying to get hooked up by the federal government. 

In fact, one person with knowledge of the discussions, who spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation, said the league never requested or accepted any resources from the White House. Instead, league officials directed credit toward its medical advisory board for putting together a plan that the Big Ten presidents were comfortable with and were able to secure enough daily antigen tests by other means. 

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