The Slatest

Trump Is Reportedly Offering Big Ten Football Teams Access to the National Reserve of Rapid COVID Tests

A Purdue quarterback stumbles as a Rutgers defensive lineman laying on the ground holds his left leg.
Facilitating games like this—a 14–12 Oct. 21, 2017, nail-biter between Purdue and Rutgers—is apparently one of the country’s top health priorities. Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Thursday, the federal government announced a purchase of 150 million rapid COVID-19 tests* from Abbott Laboratories. The company says it will be able to begin shipping the tests, which return results in roughly 15 minutes, in September, and will be able to produce 50 million of them in October.

Even a layperson can understand how distributing such tests to key populations could reduce the number of coronavirus infections suffered by U.S. citizens—not to mention potentially reviving the national economy. They could be given to medical professionals, staffers and residents of nursing homes, teachers, students, meatpackers, factory workers, employees and patrons of restaurants—you name it!

According to a former ESPN reporter who now writes for an Ohio State sports site called Letterman Row, though, Donald Trump told Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren on Tuesday that he wants to use them for football:

The primary objective for the Tuesday conference call, according to sources, was to discuss the availability of testing, which is believed to be one of the biggest looming hurdles for the Big Ten when it comes to planning any sort of return to action.

The new, cheaper […] tests could be the key that unlocks the door back to the Horseshoe and stadiums around the conference. And the White House might be willing to assist in that effort by potentially designating part of its supply to the Big Ten after buying 150 million rapid tests last week from Abbott Laboratories. 

(“The Horseshoe” is Ohio State’s football stadium.)

The Big Ten has confirmed that a conversation between Warren and Trump took place but did not mention whether testing was discussed.

The news follows a number of tweets and public comments in which the president has urged the Big Ten to reconsider its Aug. 11 decision to cancel fall sports. (The conference has said it will attempt to play fall-sport seasons in the spring if public health conditions improve.) Notably, Trump has not made similar comments about the Pac-12 conference, which also canceled fall athletics, but whose geographic footprint includes significantly fewer swing states than the Big Ten. (Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have teams in the Big Ten; the only competitive Pac-12 state is Arizona.) However, it is also worth noting that polls have found that majorities of independent voters have disapproved of the Trump administration’s pushes to reopen schools and businesses while the coronavirus remains uncontained; this suggests that distributing some of the country’s limited rapid-test resources to Ohio State running backs may not be a “winning move,” electorally.

In any case, you can click here to watch a 26-minute reel of highlights from Michigan’s 5–0 victory over Purdue on Nov. 11, 1995, a game played in a -5 degree wind chill during which Purdue fumbled five times and the winning team, Michigan, missed three field goals. If the president gets his way, that kind of excitement will be reappearing on the nation’s TV screens faster than you can say “the teams exchanged several punts during a deluge of freezing rain”!

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Correction, Sept. 3, 2020: This piece originally misstated that the Abbott test in question is saliva-based. The test is conducted via nasal swab.