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Looking back on it now, 2016 was a year that defied convention. A raucous, twist-filled presidential election set the tone for the year, but many scholars have taken particular fascination with the season of college football that punctuated this wild period in American history, and played a co-starring role in that election.

In this exclusive look back, we intersperse historical footage with contemporary interviews from many who were there as it happened... the year Trump University joined college football.

"It's All About Trump U"

APRIL 2016

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, Donald Trump Presidential Campaign Manager: Things were starting to turn sour in early April. We'd just lost Wisconsin badly, I'd been indicted for assault, and then it came out that our New York media liason was just a tiger we'd stolen from the Bronx Zoo.

HOPE HICKS, Trump PR Manager: We all thought Corey was our biggest liability, but then the tiger ate a kid.

TIGER: Look, man, I'm a tiger. I eat things. I don't know what these assholes' excuse is.

LEWANDOWSKI: So that's when Donald decided we needed to shake things up. Change the narrative. Grab some more headlines.

HICKS: The media had been hitting us really hard on the Trump University thing. They were saying it was a made-up school, that no one got real educations there, that they'd been pressured into lying about their experiences, that it was just a scam for Trump to make money on the backs of people trying desperately to better themselves, really tough things. We were flying back to Mar-a-Lago Friday night, and someone flipped on the SEC Network. Florida was playing their spring football game, and it just clicked.

LEWANDOWSKI: Not Florida's offense, that is. That never clicked.

HICKS: That this could be the solution to a few of our problems all at once.

ERIC TRUMP: Dad looked at all of us, and he says: "We're out here trying to win in America, and we just got beat by a guy from Canada. We need to show people something that reminds them why America's the greatest. What does America have that Canada doesn't? Football!"

DONALD TRUMP, JR.: We all loved the idea.

ERIC TRUMP: We later found out that Canada does have football.

[Donald Trump addressing a rally]

I've been hearing a lot of things, a lot of people are coming up to me, by the way, good people, some of the best people you've ever met, and they're saying to me, Trump University, it's great, we love it, but don't universities play football? And that's a good question, you know, why we're not playing football in this country anymore. We're not! We're not! People are coming over the border, just walking right over, and we're giving them a gift basket of soccer balls. [audible booing] Soccer! We need to be greeting them with a steel curtain! [cheers] But I tell you what, we're gonna do something great here, something really special, and, by the way, I would be great at football, people always tell me, scouts are coming up, saying how big my hands are, I'd make a great quarterback. I would. I would! But I'm busy trying to make America win again. And the first thing we're gonna do, we're gonna have a football team this year. It's gonna be the best football team you've ever seen. It's gonna be really special, and it's going to win.

IVANKA TRUMP: Dad had experience running a football team before, when he owned the New Jersey Generals in the USFL. He'd made a bold play against the NFL, much like he was trying to do against the Republican party. He'd spent a lot of money on top players like Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie, but it wasn't enough to break the monopoly. He asked us to look into how much we'd have to pay players to make Trump University a championship team.

ERIC TRUMP: He laughed for two hours straight when we told him you didn't have to pay them at all.

IVANKA TRUMP: Almost quit the campaign right there to pursue the football thing full-time.

DONALD TRUMP JR.: We explained he wouldn't even need to quit, once you're in a big conference you just get the money without having to do anything. Doesn't even matter if you win or not, you make the same pile of money.

ERIC TRUMP: Another two hours. We'd already landed in Tampa by then. Just sat on the tarmac for a while waiting for him to stop laughing.

LEWANDOWSKI: He immediately wanted to know what our conference options were. He asked what the best conference was. We told him it was the SEC, and he loved it. Perfect. Right where our support base is, and it's luxurious and wonderful. The best people. So we reached out. We knew Louisiana was having a budget crisis, and we thought maybe we could buy LSU's spot away from them. We reached out, and we thought we were close to a deal, but it fell apart for reasons that remain unclear.

JOHN BEL EDWARDS, Governor of Louisiana: [nervously] No discussions ever took place about cancelling the LSU football season. I would never consider going against the wishes of our fans. [long pause] My house burned down due to a [looks off camera] an electrical storm. [long pause] This interview is over.

LEWANDOWSKI: So we said, fine, the SEC's full, whatever. We've already got a good support base in the South, let's expand our map. We looked at the Big 12, they had spots, but look at who's there already. Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, we lost all those states to Cruz. Screw those guys. The ACC and Pac-12 were too [makes flippant gesture with hand] coastal... for our needs. We knew then where we had to be.

IVANKA TRUMP: The most glamorous conference in America.

HOPE HICKS: The biggest, most American brand.

ERIC TRUMP: One that reminded us of a bygone era when America was great. And, conveniently, covered some key swing states.

JIM DELANY, Big Ten Commissioner: What was I going to say, no? You saw the TV ratings he was getting. For heck's sake, I let Rutgers and Maryland in, of course I was going to let them in. Only hitch was, we didn't want to expand beyond 14. So we just decided we'd collectively ghost Purdue. Whole conference agreed to ignore their calls and texts. Figured it'd work itself out.

PURDUE: they probably just got a new phone, they'll let us know when the schedule comes out

Coming Soon: Trump University fills out a roster and coaching staff