How does University of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez describe his interactions with President Donald Trump during efforts last month to get Big Ten Conference football back on the fall schedule?
“Interesting” was one of the words in play.
“I missed two calls,” Alvarez said through laughs during his monthly radio show that aired on 1310 WIBA and Learfield/IMG College Wednesday night. “I said to my wife, who is POTUS? POTUS tried to call me. She started laughing. POTUS is trying to call.”
POTUS, Alvarez now knows, is the acronym for President of the United States.
Trump wanted to talk with Big Ten leaders about COVID-19 testing and the importance of the conference’s teams getting on the field, Alvarez said. Alvarez was chair of the football scheduling subcommittee for the Big Ten’s return to play task force.
“We had a good visit,” Alvarez said.
Trump took credit for helping pave the way for the Big Ten’s Sept. 16 announcement that the football season will start Oct. 23 with daily rapid antigen testing protocols. The president of a Big Ten school told NBC News that Trump “had nothing to do with our decision and did not impact the deliberations.”
The Badgers are scheduled to open a nine-game schedule against Illinois on Oct. 24, though UW-Madison said Wednesday a final date and time are still to be determined. UW originally planned for a limited number of family members of players and football staff to be able to attend games at Camp Randall Stadium but announced Wednesday the opener will be in front of only essential personnel because of the statewide rise of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Alvarez said he empathized with parents of Badgers players; his daughter, Dawn, is the mother of UW tight end Jake Ferguson. But he said the decision to keep parents out of at least the first home game was “probably the best thing.”
“You only have so many games where your son is going to play college football,” Alvarez said. “This has been a very strange year as it’s progressed. But now they’re going to play and you want to watch them play.”
Alvarez also said the work of the members of the College Football Playoff selection committee is different this year because of the staggered starts to the season for different conferences.
The SEC, Big 12 and ACC will be well into their schedules when the Big Ten and Pac-12 get started in October and November, respectively.
“Where they are at that point, they’re at midseason, they’ve worked out the bugs,” Alvarez said. “The new leagues that are starting, they’re going to still be making those first-game mistakes. It’s going to be unique to say the least and interesting. But you’d better know football to evaluate those and rank those teams.”
Alvarez was a selection committee member from 2014 to 2016.
“All week you spend time, you watch film, you think you have a grasp of everything,” he said. “You go in, you break everything down, you go through some analytics people didn’t even know existed — I didn’t even know existed — and you come out with your rankings and you’re ripped apart.
“And then the thing that you laugh about, some of the people that are critiquing don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s obvious when they open their mouth they hadn’t put a lot of time into it. But you’ve still got to sit there and listen to the criticism.”
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