President Trump plays political football again, planning College Football Playoff appearance

Yahoo Sports

There are two undefeated teams, a program on the cusp of a dynastic run and two quarterbacks who are targeted as the No. 1 picks in the next two NFL draft. The specter of No. 1 LSU’s game against No. 3 Clemson already projects as a seminal American sporting event. All, of course, playing out amid the home-cooking bacchanal in the LSU stronghold of New Orleans.

Somehow on Friday, an epic game managed to up the ante. Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich confirmed to Yahoo Sports that President Donald Trump is making plans to attend the College Football Playoff title game on Jan. 13. (The news was first reported by the Baton Rouge Advocate.)

“It adds to the fact that this is the most anticipated college football game of the century,” said James Carville, the political strategist-turned-political commentator, who is based in New Orleans. “At least going into it, it’s either this or USC-Texas [in 2006].” 

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This marks the second CFP title game President Trump has attended during his tenure, as he was at Alabama’s overtime victory over Georgia in January of 2018. He also went to LSU’s victory at Alabama in Tuscaloosa earlier this season and has attended multiple Army-Navy games.

“It’s awesome that he’s going to be there,” Radakovich told Yahoo Sports on Friday. “It shows the magnitude of college football that the president would take time out of his schedule to make an appearance at the biggest game of the year in college football.”

In Trump’s presidency, there have been two certainties at his appearances at college football games – big cheers and bigger logistical headaches.

Both were on display on Nov. 9 when Trump made an appearance in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, at one of the biggest games of the regular season between No. 3 Alabama and No. 2 LSU. Trump was shown on the video board during the game’s first television timeout and was given a rousing ovation. At tailgates that day on Alabama’s quad, “Trump 2020” signs festooned from the tailgate tents and fraternity houses. “He was well received with our crowd,” Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne told Yahoo Sports on Friday.

U.S. President Donald Trump waves to fans during the first half of the 2018 College Football Playoff title game between Georgia and Alabama. (Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump waves to fans during the first half of the 2018 College Football Playoff title game between Georgia and Alabama. (Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

The actual logistics were trickier, both for the Alabama game this year and the College Football Playoff championship game back in January of 2018. Byrne said that the cooperation of the athletic department, university and community with the White House and Secret Service helped make the logistics for his appearance at this year’s game much smoother.

He had concise advice for anyone attending the title game in New Orleans.

“Get in there as early as you possibly can,” Byrne said. “We opened the gates early, and fans were getting in as early as three hours in advance.”

It’s likely the CFP will make adjustments logistically after the debacle in Atlanta that accompanied Trump’s appearance there back in January of 2018. In an interview with Yahoo Sports in November, Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity referred to it as “miserable experience,” in terms of logistics because of the extra layers of security and Secret Service checkpoints. That day proved to be a perfect storm of difficult logistics for everyone but the teams, as thousands of fans were stuck in the driving rain for 90 minutes.  

The Superdome is 50 years old and presents its own set of logistical challenges, including fewer entrances than that of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which hosted the Georgia-Alabama title game. Expect College Football Playoff officials to explore ways to make things easier on fans, including earlier entry to avoid getting stuck outside for long periods of time.

“We will do everything possible to make access to the stadium convenient for fans,” College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock told Yahoo Sports on Friday night.

Once Trump does arrive, it’s inevitable that he’ll be drowned in a majority of cheers. (He didn’t stay until the end of either the CFP title game or Bama-LSU.) Every state in the SEC footprint, including Louisiana and South Carolina, voted for Trump in the last election. Trump called LSU coach Ed Orgeron this week to congratulate him on LSU’s season. Clemson’s football team has visited Trump twice in the White House after winning the national championship. (Clemson is located in rural South Carolina.) “He was incredibly gracious,” Radakovich said.

The general feel is that Trump will receive a similar ovation to the one he got in Tuscaloosa in November. That appearance at Alabama-LSU came in the wake of Trump getting booed at the World Series in Washington and receiving a mixed reaction at a UFC event in New York. “He’ll get a good round of applause,” Carville said. “He’ll be welcomed.”

Much of the issues with Trump in Atlanta two years ago at the title game came because he arrived well before kickoff, which delayed thousands of fans’ entrances. Carville spoke for the masses when he suggested: “It’d save everyone a lot of grief if he showed up five minutes after kickoff. It doesn’t matter what party they are.”

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