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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Pac-12 will play football this season, following pressure from Trump

The Pac-12 conference reversed its decision to cancel its college football season Thursday, the week after the Big Ten made the same call.

President Donald Trump pressed the conference to join the Big Ten in resurrecting a season, a move that helps restore a sense of normalcy as the pandemic drags on and many businesses, schools and gatherings remain closed or virtual experiences only.

“I want to recommend that the Pac-12 get going,” Trump said at a press conference last week. “There is no reason they should not be playing. Perhaps they will start partially. I recommended to [Big Ten Commissioner] Kevin [Warren] and others start off with 25 percent of the stadium or start off with it empty. I don't know. I think they could have fans go, frankly. Kevin worked very hard.”

In August, Pac-12 and Big Ten medical advisers called for competitions to be nixed as information emerged on potential serious cardiac side effects from the virus, plus concerns about athletes traveling on commercial aircraft and the nation’s still-limited capacity for frequent, rapid-turnaround testing.

“I was concerned for sure,” University of Arizona President Robert Robbins said Thursday during a press conference with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

“I think that after looking at that and watching the protocols that are being put in place by the NBA, the NFL and the other conferences, I'm comforted by the fact that that we can safely take care of our student-athletes,” said Robbins, who was previously a cardiologist.

The Pac-12 includes colleges in blue and red states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Washington. The Big Ten represents several swing states where Trump is especially eager to please voters ahead of Election Day.

Trump took full credit for the Big Ten's reversal in an interview with Clay Travis last week on his Fox Sports Radio podcast. He said one of his primary motivations was advertising by Democratic rival Joe Biden that showed empty football stadiums.

"I saw the ad and that's actually what got me into gear, because I said, 'Wait a minute, I want it to happen but I really didn't think about getting involved.' When I saw the ad I said let's get involved and get it open. So that ad is one of the reasons I got it open.

"That was such a dirty thing to do," he added.

Ahead of the Pac-12 decision, he told Travis he was going to work hard on the reversal.

"I hear there's a little bit of flexibility at Pac-12, so I don't wanna get people's hopes up too high, but there's a little bit of flexibility there, we'll see if we can do it."

Caitlin Oprysko contributed to this report.

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