WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says he doesn’t like going up against NFL games when he debates Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton this fall and that the football league complained to him about the debate schedule in a letter.
A spokesman for the NFL says the football league didn’t send a letter to Trump as the billionaire businessman claims.
The independent, nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates serves as the debate sponsor and sets the participation criteria, dates, sites and formats. The sites and dates for the 2016 debates were announced in September 2015.
The commission “did not consult with any political parties or campaigns in making these decisions,” according to a statement issued Saturday.
In an interview with ABC’s Sunday show “This Week,” Trump was asked if he would accept the commission’s schedule. He replied: “Well, I’ll tell you what I don’t like. It’s against two NFL games. I got a letter from the NFL saying, ‘This is ridiculous. Why are the debates against’ — ’cause the NFL doesn’t wanna go against the debates. ‘Cause the debates are gonna be pretty massive, from what I understand, OK?”
Asked about Trump’s assertion, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy tweeted: “While we’d obviously wish the Debate Commission could find another night, we did not send a letter to Mr Trump.”
Two of the three debates scheduled in September and October will be televised during NFL games. On Sept. 26, the night of the first debate, ESPN will carry the Monday night game featuring the Falcons vs. the Saints. On Oct. 9, the second debate will air opposite the Sunday night game featuring the Giants vs. the Packers on NBC.
“I don’t know how the dates were picked. I don’t know why those particular dates,” Trump told ABC.
The Democratic Party was criticized during the primary race for scheduling debates between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders on Saturday nights and holiday weekends, times when viewership is low. The Sanders campaign suggested that was an effort to limit the size of the audience.
Trump told ABC: “You know, Hillary Clinton wants to be against the NFL. She doesn’t — maybe like she did with Bernie Sanders, where they were on Saturday nights when nobody’s home.”
The Clinton campaign did not immediately comment on Trump’s assertion.
Trump did allow that three debates were “fine” and that he’d rather have three than one.
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner in Springfield, New Jersey, contributed to this report.