President Trump on Monday became the first president since Bill Clinton to play host to a college football team that won a title in the NCAA’s secondary division when he feted the North Dakota State Bison at the White House.
Trump surprised the squad with a spread of fast-food sandwiches in the East Room, posed for pictures and accepted a jersey emblazoned with the number 45.
The affair has become a presidential tradition since Ronald Reagan began hosting championship teams in the 1980s. But while Trump went out of his way to shine a light on a team that toils outside the big-money Division I programs, his personal attention to the Bison stood in contrast to the cold shoulder the White House has given to female athletes.
Not a single women’s championship team has made a solo visit to the White House under Trump, although several women’s teams participated in an event in 2017 during which Trump celebrated numerous men’s and women’s college champions in nonrevenue sports.
The past two WNBA champions, the Minnesota Lynx in 2017 and the Seattle Storm in 2018, were not invited.
Nor was the Notre Dame women’s basketball team, which won the NCAA title in 2018 before a crowd of 19,599 — more than the number, 17,802, who attended North Dakota’s football title game in January.
“Where are the women’s teams?” USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, who has written extensively about women’s sports, said in an interview. “To me this is just a huge step backward and shows he’s completely out of touch with how the nation views women’s sports.”
Two White House officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The last time a lower-level division college football champion visited the White House was in 1995 when Clinton feted Youngstown State. Trump invited the Bison at the request of Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who participated in the event. Though the Bison have won eight out of the past nine titles in their division, this was their first trip to the White House.
“The White House sent the invitation out from their end, and we helped coordinate things,” a spokesman for Hoeven said.
The team’s visit came just six weeks after the Clemson football team visited after winning the 2019 championship in the top college division. The Tigers’ ceremony came during the partial government shutdown, and Trump said he paid for a fast food dinner for the team out of his own pocket.
Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama regularly invited women’s teams. The Lynx made three trips to the White House during the Obama era and the Storm made two.
Every women’s college basketball champion was invited to the White House since 1983 before Trump took office, spanning five presidents.
“It’s hard not to think that gender is playing a role here,” Lynx Coach-General Manager Cheryl Reeve told The Washington Post last year.
Trump invited the South Carolina women’s basketball team, which won the 2017 title, to participate in an event with 18 other men’s and women’s college championship teams in November 2017.
But the Gamecocks turned down the visit, raising eyebrows because Coach Dawn Staley had said after winning the title in April of that year that they would accept an invitation. Staley had expressed irritation that the White House had waited so long to extend an offer.
Some men’s teams also have tangled with Trump. The president withdrew an offer to the Golden State Warriors after their 2017 title when some players, including star guard Stephen Curry, said publicly they would not attend because of their political differences with Trump.
The Lynx held an alternative ceremony last year when the team visited Washington to play the Mystics. Members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, celebrated the team, which participated in a day of community service, including donating basketball shoes to D.C. elementary school students.
The Storm is considering a similar event this year, a team official said.
“It’s kind of like the Michelle Obama statement, ‘When they go low, we go high,’” a Lynx official said in an interview. This person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive political situation.
During the event with the Bison, Trump gave a shout out to Hoeven: “You said, ‘Can we do this?’ How long did it take me to say yes?”
“Not very long,” Hoeven replied.
“I actually said, ‘I saw the game,’ okay?” the president said. “And it didn’t take long, I can tell you.”