If there’s one thing that indicates the Fall season more than the leaves falling, it’s college football. Saturday tailgates in crisp autumn weather are as American as apple pie. Watching your favorite college team play on Saturdays just feels right. The absence of Big-10 football has been a stark reminder that things are not right. Small wonder, then, that President Trump has made the return of Big-10 football a keynote issue in his push for re-election.
For millions of football fans in Michigan, Ohio, Nebraska, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, something has been missing, and now it’s back. College football represents a return to normalcy, a welcome respite from COVID-19, and most importantly, a distraction. A solid four-hour block of time where they can zone out in front of a TV in sports-induced bliss. Who to thank for such an outstanding reversal?
Well, according to the President, you should thank him. Trump tweeted last Wednesday, “Great News: BIG TEN FOOTBALL IS BACK. All teams to participate. Thank you to the players, coaches, parents, and all school representatives. Have a FANTASTIC SEASON! It is my great honor to have helped!!!”. While not taking sole ownership, the President certainly implies that he played a major role in the complicated task of bringing the Big-10 back to life. It’s worth wondering why, in the midst of a global pandemic and a pitched run-up to the general election, President Trump would emphasize this point so strongly. Isn’t it also curious that Trump advocated only for the Big-10’s return, and notably not the Pac-12’s return?
The answer, I believe, is where the Big-10’s fans are located. Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are battleground states. Trump only won Michigan by 0.23% of the vote in the 2016 race against Hillary Clinton. Ohio is a state that he won by 8% in the last race but he’s polling behind Joe Biden currently. 51% of Mid-Westerners polled identified themselves as football fans. Michigan and Ohio State fans, who make up one of the most rabid rivalries in the NCAA, are two of the largest fanbases in all of sports. This whole process could also be attributed to a wounded ego. Joe Biden ran attack ads that showed empty college football stadiums and laid the blame for COVID-19 at Trump’s feet. Trump isn’t one to let an insult go unanswered. In an election in which he needs every advantage, President Trump went directly for the red meat, college football.
The president thinks the return of the Big-10, and all that the return represents is a massive election issue. He may be right. But is college football enough to swing an election?