President Donald Trump was quick to spike the ball in celebration when the Big Ten announced the return of fall football at colleges clustered in some of the Midwest battleground states critical to his reelection effort, declaring, “I’m the one who got football back.”

But his efforts to reverse last month’s decision to postpone fall sports in the conference because of the novel coronavirus were far from the only factor that led officials to change course.

The Big Ten — one of the power conferences that drives the big business of college sports — was under enormous pressure to restart the season from athletes, parents, coaches and college towns that rely on football Saturdays to fill restaurants and hotels and provide much-needed tax revenue.

For weeks, Trump allied himself with the effort. He publicly and privately prodded the conference to reverse its Aug. 11 decision to play football next spring. When the conference announced Wednesday it would begin play Oct. 23 under strict coronavirus prevention protocols, Trump was eager to capitalize politically.

“I called the commissioner a couple of weeks ago and we started really putting a lot of pressure on, frankly,” Trump said at a news conference.

Trump’s advisers said the episode underscores how the president’s unconventional style — his Twitter rebukes and rhetorical bluster — gets things done.

It is a moment that could help Trump on the margins in key states such as Pennsylvania, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin where schools are now scheduled to play their first games less than two weeks before Election Day, said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist.

“There are voters who voted for him 2016 who don’t want to vote for him this time — mostly because they don’t like him personally,” Conant said. “Those voters need to be reminded why they supported him in the first place. It’s issues like this where he takes a controversial position they agree with and delivers.”

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The Big Ten reversal also syncs with Trump’s efforts to suggest the nation is on the glidepath to normalcy under his stewardship. The president had criticized Democrats who “don’t want football back for political reasons” and accused Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of keeping Michigan and Michigan State off the field.

Left unsaid is that the 14 schools in the Big Ten all have opted to scale back in-person learning and pleaded with students to stop parties and congregating in large groups as the U.S. death toll from the virus nears 200,000.

And while Trump repeatedly decried the Big Ten, until Wednesday he had far less to say about the postponement of fall sports by the Pac-12, which includes universities in Democratic-leaning California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington as well as battleground Arizona. On Wednesday, Trump called on the Pac-12 to “get going” and resume play.

Whitmer said the Big Ten decision to reverse course was made by members of the conference. She said she had spoken with other governors about the prospect of allowing spectators to attend games but cautioned that COVID-19 “is still a very real …read more

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