Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 21. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

Paul Manafort, the manager of Donald Trump's campaign, said Sunday that Republican nominee's camp plans to meet with the Commission on Presidential Debates over the general-election debate dates, after Trump's accusation that Democrats were rigging the schedule in hopes of a smaller audience. Two of three general-election debates are scheduled on the same night as National Football League games.

The commission and the NFL have rejected Trump's accusation. The nonpartisan, independent commission said Sunday that a debate "has never been rescheduled as a result" of a conflict with NFL games. Here's what we know about the commission's debate scheduling.

The general-election debate schedule was announced seven months before the NFL released its 2016 regular-season schedule.

The commission announced the 2016 debate schedule Sept. 23, 2015, setting the three presidential debates for Sept. 26, Oct. 9 and Oct. 19, and the vice-presidential debate for Oct. 4. The commission announced its schedule nearly seven months before the NFL announced its 2016 regular-season schedule, in April 2016.


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The commission said Sunday that it started working more than 18 months ago to identify religious and federal holidays, Major League Baseball playoff games, NFL games and other events to schedule the debates.

"It is impossible to avoid all sporting events, and there have been nights on which debates and games occurred in most election cycles. A debate has never been rescheduled as a result," the commission said. "As a point of reference, in a four-year period, there are four general-election debates (three presidential and one vice-presidential), and approximately 1,000 NFL games."

The commission added that it "selects the debate dates a year in advance in order for the television networks to have maximum lead time and predictability in scheduling these extremely important civic education forums. The CPD believes the dates for the 2016 debates will serve the American public well."

[Fact Checker: Here are the facts about the debate over the debates]

The debates are set a year out to accommodate logistics for fundraising and for the host university, according to the Annenberg Working Group on Presidential Campaign Debate Reform, a bipartisan working group formed after the 2012 presidential election.

In mid-July, Wright State University, in Ohio, pulled out of hosting the first debate because of rising costs, increased security concerns and slow fundraising. Hofstra University, in New York, has agreed to host the debate instead.

The working group, made up of officials who worked on previous presidential campaigns, recommended in its July 2015 report that the four debates be held within 19 to 25 days, with the first debate scheduled mid-September so that military families and voters could see at least one debate before voting early. The 2016 debate schedule appears to meet those recommendations.

The commission has said it did not consult either party or campaign in setting the dates. 

The commission said it "did not consult with any political parties or campaigns in making these decisions" in setting the schedule.

In political talk-show interviews on Sunday, Manafort and Trump surrogate Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) pointed to criticisms of the Democratic Party for scheduling primary debates on Saturdays and holiday weekends.

Trump, along with Paul Manafort, Reince Priebus, and Jeff Sessions, faced questions Sunday about possible changes to the debate schedule which was set by an independent commission in 2015. (The Washington Post)

"But just like we discovered in the hack of the DNC, Mrs. Clinton likes low audiences watching her debates," Manafort said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation," referring to the Democratic National Committee. "That's what she conspired for to keep Bernie Sanders from getting a large audience. Mr. Trump said: I want to debate. I will do three debates. But I want it to be the maximum audience."

Manafort added that the campaign plans to talk to the commission to find dates with the maximum audience. Trump has said he wants three debates. Appearing on NBC's "Meet The Press," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said he wants a debate on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

The NFL rejected Trump's claim that the organization wrote him complaining about the schedule. 

Trump said the NFL had sent him a letter saying the schedule is "ridiculous." A Trump aide told the Associated Press that Trump “was made aware of the conflicting dates by a source close to the league.”

"I tell you what I don't like. It's against two NFL games," Trump said in the ABC interview, a transcript of which was released Saturday. "I got a letter from the NFL saying this is ridiculous, why are the debates against [the games], because the NFL doesn't want to go against the debates because the debates are going to be pretty massive, from what I understand."

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy rejected this claim: