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Trump suggests Big Ten could play without UM, MSU because of Whitmer's 'lack of support'

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Between tweets and retweets about Joe Biden, the military, the U.S. Department of Education, the V.A., John McCain, Baltimore, Portland, Nancy Pelosi, Fake News and Fox News, President Donald Trump waded back into the Big Ten battle on Sunday.

Trump suggested for a second time that the Big Ten is "looking really good" to return, after having postponed its fall season amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Donald Trump

But Trump, in case you were on the fence whether this issue is a "political football" for the president, added a twist, suggesting the Big Ten "may lose Michigan, Illinois, and Maryland because of those Governors’ ridiculous lack of interest or political support. They will play without them?"

The three states host five of the 14 Big Ten schools.

Whitmer, the Democrat governor of Michigan, has had some of the strictest shutdown laws in the nation, but she has not said anything about holding up Michigan and Michigan State from playing football.

The Lions are set to start their season this month, albeit without fans. Last week, Whitmer eased the executive orders to allow the Michigan High School Athletic Association to reinstate fall football, but with limited fan capacities.

A spokesperson for Whitmer didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from The Detroit News about Trump's tweet.

Whitmer has long been a target of Trump, who famously called her "that woman from Michigan" during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. They traded barbs, via her many national-TV hits and his televised briefings from the White House.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is a Republican, though occasionally has sparred with Trump amid the pandemic, and Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker is a Democrat.

Last week, Trump broke the news that he had talked with Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren about starting football again — the Big Ten and the Pac-12 are the two Power Five conferences to postpone fall football.

Warren later confirmed the conversation, but said nothing to suggest the conference was close to returning, despite Trump's assertions.

More: Trump, testing and tempers: How the Big Ten dumped football this fall

It's not surprising Trump has immersed himself into the Big Ten discussion, political analysts told The News, given the Big Ten's footprint includes several possible swing states ahead of November's president election, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. Analysts said the issue is a "winner" for him, either way; if the Big Ten plays, he takes credit, and if it doesn't, he gets to say he tried.

Given how narrow his election was in 2016, on the strength of tight races in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the Big Ten has emerged has a legitimate wedge issue.

Several Big Ten coaches have expressed their interest in restarting football, including Michigan's Jim Harbaugh — who led a demonstration at Michigan Stadium on Saturday, the original day UM was to begin its season — and Ohio State's Ryan Day. But the decision is in the hands of 14 presidents and chancellors who mostly remain quite concerned about the logistics and protocols for testing.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984