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President Trump spikes the ball after Big Ten announcement: 'Great honor to have helped'

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

President Trump took a victory lap on Twitter on Wednesday morning after the Big Ten announced it was reinstating its football season.

Trump has taken a significant interest in the Big Ten's situation since the conference first announced Aug. 11 that the football season, and all fall sports, would be postponed.

President Donald Trump

"Great News: BIG TEN FOOTBALL IS BACK. All teams to participate," Trump wrote on Twitter. "Thank you to the players, coaches, parents, and all school representatives. Have a FANTASTIC SEASON!

"It is my great honor to have helped."

Trump and commissioner Kevin Warren spoke Sept. 1, with Trump then tweeting the Big Ten was on the "one-yard line" in preparation for its return. Warren would only confirm they had a productive discussion.

During the conversation, Trump offered to help supply rapid COVID-19 tests.

The White House said Wednesday that there were hundreds of calls with people from the Big Ten, from the commissioner to parents, coaches and players.

"It was productive. It was productive and interesting," Warren said Wednesday of his Sept. 1 call with Trump. "I'm always interested in who's willing to help, regardless of the level that they can help in."

Five days after that initial call with Warren, Trump tweeted again, blaming governors of Michigan, Illinois and Maryland for holding up the Big Ten season. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she agreed with the Big Ten's initial decision, but had nothing to do with it.

At her daily COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, Whitmer said she supported the Big Ten's latest decision.

"I know the Big Ten has been studying the issue, I know that they've got some of the best experts on their campuses," he said. "I know the advancements that have been made in terms of testing have given them some greater confidence that they can engage in a truncated season, safely."

The Sept. 1 call with Warren and the follow-up post on Twitter were the first two of several interactions Trump had regarding the Big Ten.

Trump again mentioned the Big Ten during a rally outside Saginaw last week, and brought up the conference Tuesday night during a townhall appearance in Philadelphia.

It's no surprise Trump took an interest in the Big Ten, political analysts told The News, given the conference's footprint includes several swing states ahead of November's president election. In 2016, he won Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by less than 80,000 total votes, smaller than Michigan Stadium's capacity. In a TV ad last month, Trump's Democrat opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, included an image of an empty Michigan Stadium.

Opening her Wednesday briefing, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany rattled off the list of all the states affected by the Big Ten's decision (she accidentally added Mississippi, and omitted Michigan).

"The president was happy to get this going," McEnany said.

Legal experts said Trump was in a win-win situation when it came to the Big Ten. If the conference returned, as it did Wednesday, he could take credit (which he sort of has); if the conference remained shut down, he could at least tell the voters he did all he could.

Trump hasn't weighed in on the Pac-12, now the only Power Five conference with all fall sports shut down. The Pac-12's footprint, it's worth noting, includes mostly blue states.

"Football is America's most popular sport, and as people get restless, the appeal of its return in one form or another is increasing," said John Selleck, an analyst from Harbor Strategic Public Affairs. "He clearly sees a public push against faceless school bureaucrats to restart the games as a political winner."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984