President Donald Trump said Thursday that it was a television ad aired by his presidential election opponent that spurred his successful intervention in the Big Ten's decision to restart its college football season.
In an interview with Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis, the president described his anger at being shown an ad crafted by Joe Biden's campaign that aired across several swing states where schools with high-profile football programs had canceled their seasons. Iterations of the Biden ad tailored for specific swing states showed sweeping shots of empty college football stadiums at the universities of Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona as well as Michigan State, Penn State and Arizona State universities.
With the National Anthem playing in the background, on-screen text reads "Trump put America on the sidelines" and "let's get back in the game."
“I saw the ad and that’s actually what got me into gear,” Trump said, arguing that he felt the ad insinuated that he didn’t care about whether college football was played this fall.
“I said, 'wait a minute, I want it to happen,' but I really didn’t think about getting involved,” he continued. “When I saw the ad I said, 'let's get involved and get it open.' So that ad is one of the reasons I got it open.”
The Big Ten, a 14-team conference that includes the flagship universities of multiple states key to the president's reelection this fall, announced on Aug. 11 that it would postpone all fall sports, citing the advice of health officials who warned against holding a season as the Covid-19 pandemic rages through the country.
After public pressure from Trump, other Republicans, athletes, parents and fans, the conference reversed course on Wednesday, leading to Trump’s victory lap on Travis’ show. The Pac-12 Conference, which consists of 12 schools in Western states, similarly postponed its fall sports season, though the governors of California and Oregon on Wednesday appeared to pave the way for a reversal on that decision as well.
While Trump claimed credit for the Big Ten's call to hold a football season after all, the conference's commissioner, Kevin Warren, would not say on Wednesday whether pressure from the president played a role in the decision. Warren told reporters that he had had a “productive and interesting” conversation with the president.
Hours after his Fox Sports Radio interview, Trump published a video on his Twitter account celebrating the Big Ten's return.
“Big Ten just needed some confidence in it and some backing,” Trump told Travis, asserting that “without us,” sports in the conference would have remained dark.
“I hear somebody said, ‘Gee it’s too bad about football, I thought you liked football,’ I said sure I do, why?” Trump explained Thursday. He said he was told the Biden campaign was airing the ad in “very important” states, and that the ad claimed it was the president’s fault that there would be no Big Ten football this fall.
“I said you've gotta be kidding me," Trump said. "I got a hold of the ad and I said what a lie, it’s just a lie."
He added of the Biden campaign: “That was such a dirty thing to do.”