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Ranking the 2016 presidential candidates by their worst sports fan pandering

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This election has had a little bit of everything: alums turning on their schools to pander to primary voters in other states, candidates destroying children with footballs to the head, ACC teams burning candidates on Twitter, and governors trying to let you know how much they care and sometimes misspelling the names of the iconic players they're trying to convince you they adore.

As Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton roll toward November, we're not sure how the election will turn out, but we're confident we'll get more and more chances to add to this list.

Tier I: The candidates who seem to actually care about sports, ranked by pandering-ness

4. Marco Rubio

Rubio seems like he's actually a sports fan and a somewhat human guy when his microchip isn't malfunctioning. He even used to live tweet Florida Gators games and offer frequent sports commentary:

But he had a few less-than-terrific sports moments. I don't even know that these are pandering, so they're low on the list, but their inclusion felt warranted.

"Look, I don't have anything against Florida State," Rubio said, back in September. "I think there has to be a school where people who can't get into Florida can go to college."

Hey! That's kind of funny!

But then Rubio ran away from it like it was a comprehensive immigration reform bill he once sponsored, saying it was "not a serious statement" instead of owning it and taking more jabs.

After Florida State dumped on Rubio's Gators, the Seminoles' Twitter account had things to say:

Florida State has won as many national championships (three) as Rubio won primaries before dropping out of the race.

Just do better, Senator.

Another time, ahead of Super Tuesday, at a campaign stop in Atlanta, the junior senator joked:

They keep calling it the "SEC primary". There's some ACC schools in there, too. This is a Georgia Tech town, right? No? Listen, all right, enough. Go Gators! One of our last events in South Carolina was at Clemson. We finished pretty strong there. You know why? Because I said something that wasn't probably true. But I told the people there, 'Listen, vote for me, because everybody else on the ballot, they rooted for Alabama in the national championship.

This is a fair assessment of Georgia Tech's geographic location, and give Rubio credit for acknowledging the silliness in politicians trying to pretend they care about these things.

3. John Kasich

The pizza-forking governor of Ohio who has a decent jump shot but once got roasted on Twitter by the Philadelphia 76ers, Kasich has a long history as a fan of the Buckeyes. There's no reason not to think that's genuine, but does he have to be so insufferable about it?

This is technically more gubernatorial pandering than presidential, but it'd be short-sighted not to acknowledge. Ohio State and Michigan people take this rivalry very seriously, and nobody pretends to take it more seriously than Ohio's governor.

Case in point: banning the letter M before a Michigan-Buckeyes football game.

The Jim Harbaugh angle is cute, and Kasich went to Ohio State and probably is a real Buckeyes fan. Urban Meyer and Jim Tressel would later endorse him. Good for him!

One time at Michigan State, the Ohio governor reached for a playful bit of self-depreciation about Ohio State's loss to the Spartans last season.

The problem? That game was in Columbus, not East Lansing.

2. Jeb Bush

Bush is the former governor of Florida, and he presents himself as a pretty big Miami Heat fan. So, he wanted to appear very excited when Dwyane Wade led Miami to a huge first-round playoff win against Charlotte.

That's not how you spell it, Jeb.

That's not it either, Jeb.

Jeb also appears to be an actual college football fan. But good job, good effort, etc. on this one:

The SEC put the kibosh on this marketing effort, and Bush dropped out before the majority of so-named SEC states even voted.

Oh, also. Jeb, what are your thoughts on Florida's game against Tennessee?

Goodness gracious.

1. Chris Christie

This was criminal justice pandering masquerading as a sports take, sort of. Christie saw the video of NFL draftee Laremy Tunsil smoking from a gas mask bong sometime in the apparently distant past, and the Trump assistant decided he simply couldn't tolerate it.

"It's unbelievable," Christie said. "Because the bong hits aren't enough. Give me the gas mask, too. It's incredible. I can't take my eyes off it. It's unbelievable."

For Christie -- the former U.S. attorney -- Tunsil's actions are a grave problem.

And the governor has a strong take on what to do about it, via BuzzFeed's Christopher Massie:

"When I was a prosecutor, I would've gone in and cuffed this guy," Christie said. "I would've been all over it."

Christie, who apparently had the day off from mowing Trump's lawn, also attended a Notre Dame NCAA Tournament game and soaked up some camera time in the locker room afterward.

Previously, he was spotted freaking out with Jerry Jones and defending Rutgers' many sports scandals from the media.

Tier II: The candidates trying way too hard to make you think they care about sports, ranked by pandering-ness

5. Rick Santorum

On the verge of the Iowa caucuses, he said voters would want someone with a "track record of winning," like national champions Nick Saban and Meyer. Aside from Santorum's Tressel-like affinity for vests, this never made much sense.

He also said Iowa State would've rather had a proven winner than new head coach Matt Campbell, which was odd in the sense that Campbell has won 35 games since Santorum last won a general election of any sort.

4. Bernie Sanders

The Democrats really haven't said a lot about sports. (However, Sanders earns points for his jump shot.)

When we first released this list in May, Sanders' was in the "not pandering about sports" category, because he hadn't done anything egregious and generally seemed to uninterested in sports-politicking.

That changed during the NBA's Western Conference Finals.

The primary problem with this: Golden State's win percentage this season was .890. Sanders' win percentage of convention delegates the Democratic primary is something like .329. The math simply doesn't work, Senator.

Sanders' also campaign deserves to be dinged for making a lazy college football analogy. Credit to Sanders press aide Symone Sanders for trying to explain the complicated ins and outs of the Democratic presidential nominating contest. But her analogy didn't entirely work:

"I think what's important to remember here is that superdelegates are kind of like football recruits. You know, they say they are coming but until they have signed on the dotted line and they're in practice, you don't know that they're all the way with you and that they're on your team. And so we think that we still have time to garner support from these superdelegates, especially when we're winning."

Sanders seems to think he's Ohio State and Hillary is Maryland.

3. Ted Cruz

There's a good chance Cruz has never even seen the film Hoosiers, but let's pretend that he has. How could this happen?

There's never been a bigger expression of horror than the woman beyond Cruz when he referred to a basketball hoop as a "basketball ring." Wonder what other sports phrases Cruz has in his bag?

Cruz, who might also be Duke guard Grayson Allen, has a long history of silly sports-related things. He once wore a J.J. Watt jersey for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, even though there's an 87 percent chance Ted Cruz doesn't know who J.J. Watt is.

There was also that time he tried to get Southern votes by stealing the Big 12's logo font for his campaign Snapchat filter.

The league wasn't even remotely happy, and it stopped. Cruz definitely couldn't name five Big 12 teams, by the way.

2. Donald Trump

Where to start? Trump is this high because of a broad body of work.

This was a weird one. At a campaign stop in Pittsburgh, Trump asked a crowd, "How's Joe Paterno?" Probably not well, because he is dead.

Trump said of Paterno he wanted to "bring that back," possibly a reference to the statue of Paterno that Penn State removed after the Jerry Sandusky scandal. But it would be kind of weird to inquire about the well-being of a statue. If Trump were asking, "How's Joe Paterno?" about the statue, the answer would still be "not well," because it is also not alive.

Even if you give Trump the benefit of the doubt, this didn't make sense. Trump was in Pittsburgh, a little more than two hours south of Penn State. Penn State has alumni in Southwestern Pennsylvania, but Pittsburgh is by no means a Penn State town. The most popular school there, by far, is Pitt. Many Pitt fans hold Paterno responsible for ending a pretty good rivalry between the two teams.

To recap: Trump pandered to the wrong city on behalf of a dead person he might have forgotten was dead.

(Trump made a similar misstep in Maryland, where he talked up his friendship with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Baltimore and Washington fans do not like Tom Brady.)

Trump has also made it a habit of getting endorsements from old coaches.

He appeared in Indiana with petulant, chair-throwing former Hoosiers basketball coach Bobby Knight, and, man oh man, was it dumb. (He later thanked "Coach Night" in a tweet.) He's trotted out old Purdue coach Gene Keady and Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps. He's trotted out Rex Ryan and Lou Holtz, who can be entertaining, but are not people anyone should rely on for political guidance.

Iowa said this wasn't an official program endorsement, and the jersey didn't come from the team itself. Nobody's been able to get Trump on record about his feelings on punting from the opposition's 34-yard line, unfortunately.

Trump tailgated with a smorgasbord of drunken Iowa and Iowa State fans in the fall, and a colleague brilliantly captured the scene as Trump played both sides.

Meet HAWKEYE. He was more amicable than CYCLONE, but under the advice of his less-drunk friends, he would likewise not tell me his name. He wore an Iowa polo and a signature Trump "Make America Great Again" hat, with a Coors Light in hand. I asked him why he supported Trump, and he gave the standard response: Trump's not politically correct, he's a good businessman, he's not afraid of anyone, etc.

Then he leaned in and said, "To be honest, man, we're just here to get fucked up."

1. Carly Fiorina

It's hard to imagine anything topping this one. Fiorina is a Stanford alumna, but her nominally beloved Cardinal were facing Iowa in the Rose Bowl a month before the Iowa caucuses.

Not great work by whichever 26-year-old press aide suggested this.

Iowa and Fiorina both got lost badly, and she didn't reemerge until she was being introduced as the Not Vice President of the United States at a Cruz rally in April.

She didn't do much other sports pandering, while some of her competitors did a lot of it. But Fiorina turning on her alma mater is a single act that tops anyone else's total production.

Tier I: The candidates who might pander about other things* but barely talk about sports at all

Hillary Clinton

All along, the Democratic Party establishment really wanted Clinton to be its nominee. The party's attempts to hide Clinton's debates with Sanders and Martin O'Malley during the fall were obvious and brazen, even before an email hack.

The Democrats had a debate the night of Nov. 14, running directly against the Baylor-Oklahoma football game that decided the Big 12 and gripped much of the American South.

On Dec. 19, they had a debate up against a Jets-Cowboys NFL game that gathered a huge audience in two of the states (New York and Texas) with the highest delegate counts.

"We're giving them a variety of opportunities to see our candidates while preserving their ability to be out on the campaign trail, so that they can get up close and personal with voters," Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said, apparently with a straight face.

Clinton's first really weird sports joke, as best we can tell, came in August. No idea who suggested this:

Clinton's previously benefited from odd, sports-related debate scheduling, but she hasn't said a whole lot about sports themselves. *(We'll leave it to political writers to say whether she has or hasn't pandered on other things.)