Politics play part in Big Ten's return to football

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The Big Ten Conference announced on Wednesday, Sept. 17 that fall football will return in October -- a decision with layers of political influence.

Big Ten states -- including Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Minnesota -- love their football teams. And they're battleground states in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

With Big Ten football preparing to kick off again, President Trump took to Twitter, saying it was his "honor to have helped."


Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin's athletic director, credited the president with helping provide resources that make the return possible.

"He talked to the commissioner and I think one of the things he did was make tests, make saliva tests available, and show how returning to football in the Big Ten was important to him," Alvarez said.

Alvarez said the president drew attention to Big Ten Football, but: "how much that had to do with us being back on the field, I don't know that answer."

Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez

Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez

On Aug. 19, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren wrote that the decision to postpone fall sports "will not be revisited." Then, on Sept. 1, President Trump spoke with Warren.

"It's a great conference. Tremendous teams and we're pushing very hard," President Trump said  after that call. "They want to play, and the fans want to see it and the players have a lot at stake, including playing in the NFL. You have a lot of great players in that conference."

The president's comments were backed up on Sept. 8 by Wisconsin and other states' Republican leaders, urging the Big Ten to reconsider the decision to cancel the football season.

On Wednesday, President Trump added more about his role, speaking during a media briefing. "I called the commissioner a couple of weeks ago and we stated really putting a lot of pressure on, frankly, because there was no reason for it not to come back."

Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro, who is chair  of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors, on Wednesday said he was only listening to the health experts.

"For me, it wasn't about political pressure, it wasn't about money, it wasn't about lawsuits. It wasn't about what everyone else was doing," said Schapiro. "It was the unanimous opinion of our medical experts."

Camp Randall Stadium

Camp Randall Stadium

Before the official announcement, Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday, Sept. 15 offered his playbook for football's return.

"Making sure they have enough testing, contact tracing, all the things that need to be happening on a really significant level in order to allow activities like football or other sports to happen," Gov. Evers said.

Some of the governor's fellow Wisconsin Democrats, though, said the games should not go on.

"If President Trump and his Republican allies had taken this virus seriously; we would not have been in this situation," explained State Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison).

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The Trump administration's testing czar, Adm. Brett Giroir, M.D., told FOX6 News that players can stay safe.

"I know what sports does for student-athletes. It really provides them discipline, it provides them goals, opportunities, and I think they're going to be safe, because we can take care of them," said Giroir, who is the assistant secretary for health.

"If we make sure we don't overcrowd spaces, if we are very sensible about crowds and other parts of it, I think we can protect the football team. I hope we can also protect the women's basketball team, the crew team in Wisconsin, which has sort of been world famous for ever," Giroir added.

Public Health Madison & Dane County is recommending that people do not gather to watch Wisconsin Badgers games.

In a news release issued on Wednesday, health officials said: "The decision to hold the football season right now has wide-reaching impacts beyond athlete and student safety and will impact the health and safety of many people in Dane County."

"We value people's health and lives over sports, and we hope that UW does as well," said Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison & Dane County.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi cited a "record number" of cases on the University of Wisconsin campus since students moved in. Eighty-eight percent of students who tested positive are reporting symptoms, Parisi said.

President Trump will campaign in Wisconsin on Thursday, Sept. 17 as he tries to win the Badger State. Recent polls show him trailing Joe Biden.

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