Fact-checkers have been very busy since Tuesday night in culling through the claims of president Donald Trump and Democratic opponent Joe Biden during the first presidential debate, but one Trump statement was easily to debunk almost immediately.
While talking about the economy and its struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump said, "By the way, I brought back Big Ten football. It was me, and I'm very happy to do it, and the people of Ohio are very proud of me."
The only problem with his statement is that none of it is true, other than the fact that there are indeed people in Ohio.
On Aug. 31, White House officials reached out to Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren to facilitate a phone call between Warren and Trump. That took place the next day.
But in no way did the call have anything to do with what the Big Ten was doing at the time to figure out a way to play football in the fall. Warren confirmed it, as did several other Big Ten officials, school presidents and chancellors.
At that time — and then again two weeks later when the Big Ten announced it would return to the field on Oct. 24 — Warren and several conference leaders said the decision to return was based solely on improvements in daily COVID-19 testing and more detailed reports on myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart — and had nothing to do with Trump's phone call.
Several Big Ten school presidents quickly chimed in as well, chastising Trump for trying to turn it into a political football, no pun intended.
“President Trump had nothing to do with our decision and did not impact the deliberations,” said the president of a Big Ten university who asked not to be identified, via NBC4 in Columbus. “In fact, when his name came up (in conversation among the 14 league presidents), it was a negative, because no one wanted this to be political.”
Trump has tried to take credit for the return of Big Ten football from the beginning. On Sept. 16, the day the conference announced that football would return in the fall, Trump tweeted "it is my great honor to have helped!"
The Big Ten originally chose to postpone the fall season and move it to the spring, making the announcement on Aug. 11. It was the decision of the league's presidents and chancellors to do so, because much of the medical information at the time — most specifically COVID-19's impact on the heart in several Big Ten athletes — was enough to scare them off.
Warren, the face of the conference, made the announcement, and he was immediately criticized by many groups, including current players and coaches at several Big Ten schools. Nebraska, Ohio State and Iowa wanted to play anyway, and finger-pointing got even worse when other leagues, most notably the SEC and the ACC, decided to play in the fall anyway, choosing not to follow the Big Ten's lead.
Nebraska players filed suit against the league and the #WeWantToPlay movement continued to push hard for the Big Ten to reconsider.
It wasn't until daily antigen test became available that the Big Ten would even consider returning to the field. That daily testing has started now at all 14 schools, and is being paid for by the conference.
Indiana started 10 days earlier with daily testing, paying for it themselves until the Big Ten testing began. Indiana coach Tom Allen said no players or coaches tested positive in the first week, through more than 1,200 tests. Allen said he is confident that the league can play a full schedule thanks to the daily testing.
“Testing, that was the game changer,” Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said after Trump's comments. “Having the availability, the reliability, the opportunity to test daily was a game-changer for this decision.”
Fact checked: It was the testing, and not Donald Trump, that enabled Big Ten football to return.
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