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Donald Trump says cancelling the 2020 college football season would be a ‘tragic mistake’

President Donald Trump continued to argue in favor of proceeding with the 2020 college football season amid the pandemic on Tuesday, while reiterating his disdain for NFL players protesting racism during the national anthem. 

‘I would say this, if they don’t stand for the national anthem I hope they don’t open,’ Trump told conservative Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis of the upcoming NFL season. ‘But other than that I would love to see them open and we’re doing everything possible for them getting them open.’ 

As for the besieged college football season, Trump argued that players would not be at risk from coronavirus infection because they are in ‘extraordinary shape.’

‘You’re not going to see people dying,’ Trump said. ‘And many people get it and they have — like kids they get it they have the sniffles. Young kids, almost none have a serious problem with it.

‘I mean literally, you look, I think they said the state of California almost nobody that’s young had a — like zero had a serious problem with this disease,’ he continued. ‘They get better very quickly, if they get it at all. So, I think football is making a tragic mistake [by not playing].’ 

While there remains a low death rate among children and teenagers who contract the virus, the number of new COVID-19 cases among American youth rose 40 percent in the last two weeks of July, according to a new report.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association found that more than 338,000 children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the US epidemic, with 97,078 new cases reported in the July 16-30 period. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics noted the data showed that severe illness due to COVID-19 appears to be rare among children. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has said that children who get the virus are less likely to have severe symptoms. 

But although children appear to avoid the worst symptoms of the virus, the long-term effects remain unknown, and there are fears that COVID-19 can cause unforeseen, yet permanent, damage. 

For instance, a rare heart condition linked to coronavirus has reportedly become an increasing concern among college football administrators as the NCAA’s ‘Power Five’ conferences continue to debate postponing the fall sports season amid the pandemic.

An ESPN report cited two sources who have ‘knowledge of athletes’ medical care’ that five Big Ten players have been found to have myocarditis, which is inflammation of tissue in the heart.

Usually the result of a viral infection, complications of myocarditis include heart damage and possibly fatal heart attacks.

The potential risk of heart issues added another obstacle to fall sports, ‘and it could be we don’t get there,’ said Dr. Jonathan Drezner, who leads the University of Washington Medicine Center for Sports Cardiology and serves as an NCAA adviser on cardiac issues. 

Although the Big Ten is reportedly worried about myocarditis, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told Dan Patrick’s radio show on Tuesday that his conference’s doctors are giving him the green light. 

‘Our medical advisory group has said, ‘Yes, we can continue to go forward,’ Sankey said Tuesday. ‘Should that advice change, that would certainly be a stopping point.’  

While discussing the NFL, Trump said he would prefer that the 2020 season not open if players are going to continue protesting racism by peacefully demonstrating during the national anthem.

‘I think they can protest in other ways,’ he said. ‘They shouldn’t protest our flag or our country.’

The demonstrations have been a source of controversy since 2016, with then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the anthem to raise awareness about inequality and racist police brutality.

Since September of 2017, when Trump first seized upon the issue at a rally in Alabama, the President has repeatedly voiced his objection to athletes kneeling in protest. Over that time he has mentioned the word ‘anthem’ in no fewer than 30 tweets.

This summer, with the NBA re-opening its season in Florida, that league dropped its rule requiring players to stand for the national anthem, and as a result, much of the league has been kneeling in protest the last two weeks. 

Trump told Fox Sports Radio that NBA ratings have plummeted because of the protests, although the league’s ratings were initially up in the immediate aftermath of the protests and were down only slightly in the second week since the restart. 

‘I think it’s been horrible for basketball,’ he said. ‘Look at the basketball ratings. ‘They’re down to very low numbers. People are angry about it. They don’t realize. … They have enough politics with guys like me. They don’t need more as they’re driving down … going up for the shot. They don’t need it. There’s a nastiness about the NBA about the way it was done too. 

‘So I think the NBA is in trouble. It’s in big trouble. Bigger trouble than they understand,’ Trump said.  

NBA viewership was initially up 14 percent on ESPN, ABC, and TNT since the pandemic-interrupted season restarted at Disney World in late July, according to the league and Nielsen. 

TNT’s opening doubled header averaged an impressive 2.9 million viewers on Thursday, while that night’s Lakers-Clippers game specifically averaged 3.4 million, more than doubling the network’s regular season mark.   

League ratings dipped in the second week, but all 16 nationally televised games still drew over 1 million viewers. The numbers are comparable to the final games before the 2019 postseason, according to Showbiz Daily.  

Trump also criticized Major League Baseball as many of its players have knelt in protest since the league started its pandemic-delayed season last month. 

‘I did not like what baseball did even a little bit,’ he said. ‘Again, you have to stand for your flag and you have to stand for your flag and your country. They’re making millions of dollars a year to play a sport you’d be playing anyway if you didn’t make … they’d be playing it on the weekends. They have to respect their country.’

Interestingly, Trump was supportive of the NHL, although several players have protested racial inequality during the national anthem since that season re-opened in Toronto and Edmonton. 

According to Trump, hockey players ‘respected what they’re supposed to be doing.’

The debate over the 2020 college sports season only intensified Monday, as Trump sided with a group of top college players like Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who launched a social media campaign to urge administrators to play the season as planned.

‘Play College Football!’ Trump tweeted Monday. 

The Division II and Division III fall sports seasons have already been postponed due to coronavirus, and several Division I conferences such as the Ivy League and Mid-America Conference have done so as well. (Division I football is divided between the FBS, formerly Division I-A, and the FCS, formerly Division I-AA)

However, the most profitable conferences known as the ‘Power Five’ (the Big Ten, ACC, SEC, Pac-12, and Big 12) had yet to officially postpone their respective seasons. Two of those, the Big Ten and Pac-12, reportedly agreed to do so on Monday, but conflicting reports emerged later claiming that Big Ten administrators had yet to vote on the issue. 

The reports aside, Trump told Travis on Tuesday that any cancellations among the Power Five conferences would be a mistake.

‘These football players are very young, strong people, physically,’ he said. ‘I mean, they’re physically in extraordinary shape. So, they’re not going to have a problem [with the virus],’ said Trump. 

Trump went on to argue in favor of hosting large crowds at college football games, like the ones he saw in November, when he watched Louisiana State beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

‘When I went to that game, it was incredible,’ Trump said. ‘I went to a couple of them and I never really did the big time college football. I went to an Ivy League school [Penn], it wasn’t quite the same. But when I went to Alabama and I went to LSU and, you know, these stadiums are massive. You have no idea about that. It’s much bigger crowds than the NFL.

‘In the NFL you have [60,000 fans],’ he continued. ‘And here we had, I think, 115,000 people. And you go to see these games and it’s brilliant football, it’s great football. The atmosphere, there’s nothing like it. And you can’t have empty seats.’

Alabama’s Bryant-Denney stadium holds just over 100,000 spectators, so Trump’s claim of 115,000 people in attendance is only a minor exaggeration.

But despite Trump’s optimism that college football can be played in 2020 without fueling the ongoing pandemic, Power Five administrators are decidedly more concerned.

The Detroit Free Press had reported that the fall football season was off, with commissioner Kevin Warren preferring a spring football season. That came after Dan Patrick said on his Fox Sports radio show that the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences were planning to announce the cancellation of the season.

Patrick, citing a source in the Big Ten, said an internal vote of all 14 member institutions resulted in a 12-2 vote to attempt to move the season to spring, with Iowa and Nebraska casting the dissenting votes.

Later in the day, Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports and Adam Rittenberg of ESPN tweeted that league sources told them no vote had taken place.

Chris Solari, who wrote the story for the Free Press, also later said a league spokesperson told him a vote did not occur but that didn’t mean the season would be played.

‘Another conference source, however, tells me presidents are moving unanimously together in canceling the season, with an announcement expected Tuesday,’ Solari wrote on Twitter.

Politicians got involved in an apparent last-ditch attempt to save the season.

‘The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be canceled. #WeWantToPlay,’ President Donald Trump tweeted.

Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), the former Ohio State and Indianapolis Colts wide receiver, told USA Today that cancelling the Big Ten season would be a ‘enormous mistake,’ adding that it would be ‘catastrophic.’

‘The risk is obviously there,’ Gonzalez said. ‘But I think that if you’re in an environment where coaches want to coach, players want to play and parents of players want their kids to play that, at the very least, you need to create the option.’

And Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, wrote a letter advocating for football that he planned to send to Big Ten presidents and chancellors, a copy of which was shared by Sports Illustrated.

‘There are no guarantees that college football will be completely safe — that’s absolutely true,’ wrote Sasse, the former president of private Midland University in Nebraska.

‘But the structure and discipline of football programs is very likely safer that what the lived experience of 18- to 22-year olds will be if there isn’t a season.’

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh made a similar argument, releasing a statement declaring that the most recent 353 COVID-19 tests among players have returned negative results because of the safety protocols instituted within the program.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day said Monday afternoon in a Twitter post that he wasn’t giving up on the 2020 season.

Amid the uncertainty, Iowa canceled practice, Michigan State switched a scheduled off day for players from Tuesday to Monday, and Purdue announced players and coaches would no longer be available to media as scheduled on Monday.

Last week, the Big Ten eliminated padded practices until further notice out of concern for the spread of the coronavirus.

Presidents and chancellors of Pac-12 institutions were scheduled to meet Tuesday. The Seattle Times reported Monday that the Washington Huskies’ practice was off.

As for the ACC, Big 12 and SEC, those conferences had wanted to assess the situation after students returned to campuses this month, but ESPN stated that any postponements by the Pac-12 or Big Ten may force their hand.

SEC presidents and chancellors were holding a previously unscheduled conference call on Monday, Sports Illustrated reported.

The Mid-American Conference on Saturday voted to postpone fall sports, making it the first FBS conference to postpone football. The MAC is hoping to play in the spring instead.

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