New Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren: This an opportunity for a legacy

Chris Solari
Detroit Free Press

Few jobs, Kevin Warren said, could have pried him away from the Minnesota Vikings and the NFL.

Replacing Jim Delany as Big Ten commissioner was the one that did.

“This is not about a job,” Warren said to reporters Tuesday during his introductory news conference in Rosemont, Illinois, “this is really about an opportunity for a legacy.”

His predecessor did that, with Delany creating the Big Ten Network, expanding the league twice and bringing in a boon of cash to conference schools during his 20-plus years that will officially end Jan. 1, 2020.

“When you have an iconic leader like Jim Delany, the worst thing you can do is to go and try to tear down what he’s built and what this staff has built,” Warren said. “So I think one of the things that I will focus on is making sure that I take the time and energy to be a great listener and a great observer — to take what he’s built, to take what our presidents and chancellors have built, to take what this staff has built, to take what our student-athletes have built — to really understand that, and then to build on top of that.”

Minnesota Vikings chief operating officer Kevin Warren talks to reporters after being named Big Ten Conference Commissioner during a news conference Tuesday, June 4, 2019, in Rosemont, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

While Delany ushered in an era of record financial profits for the Big Ten, Warren’s role will be to protect them while navigating a number of challenges — possible student-athlete compensation, the growing issues with transfers and the dire prospect of dwindling TV revenue among them.

And the 55-year-old Warren also will be tasked with trying to get the Big Ten back to the four-team College Football Playoff after a two-year absence while looking ahead to potentially expanding that field.

“You think about where we are in college athletics. You think about what the next five to 10 to 15 years look like,” Warren said. “When I accepted this job, I didn’t look at it as this is a today job. I looked at it as a long-term job.”

Like Delany, Warren has his law degree and spent time early in his career working on NCAA compliance issues — Delany on the NCAA staff as an enforcement representative, and Warren as a young lawyer working for eventual SEC commissioner Mike Slive.

Unlike Delany, who was hired at 41 years old by the Big Ten in 1989 after serving as the Ohio Valley commissioner for a decade, Warren has not been involved in college athletics administration. He worked in the NFL for much of the past two decades, including three years (2001-03) with the Detroit Lions and the past 15 with the Minnesota Vikings.

“Everyone is different. I’m sure I’ll have a different style, but I know that there are certain innate and fundamental characteristics that we will be the same on,” Warren said. “And that’s the love of this conference, the respect for the presidents and chancellors, the respect for the student-athletes and the athletic administration, the love for our fans. I think all those attributes that Jim has, of being a hard worker and working together and collaborating as a visionary, I have a lot of those same attributes.”

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany speaks during a news conference to announce changes to the Las Vegas Bowl football game, Tuesday, June 4, 2019, in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Bowl is moving to a new, bigger stadium next year, and will feature teams from the SEC or Big Ten conferences against a Pac-12 contender. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The hiring of Warren received the support and praise from Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel.

“I was excited to hear yesterday that Kevin Warren was selected as the next Commissioner of the Big Ten,” Manuel told the Free Press in a statement. “I have known Kevin for a couple of decades. Great person, really smart, and excellent leader.  I am excited about working with him in his new role.”

Bill Beekman, approaching his one-year anniversary as Michigan State's athletic director, agreed with Warren's hiring as well.

“Kevin Warren is an excellent choice to serve as the next commissioner of the Big Ten Conference," Beekman said in a statement to the Free Press. "He was an excellent leader with the Minnesota Vikings and has a wealth of experience in athletics and beyond. I expect the Big Ten institutions and, most importantly, our student-athletes will benefit greatly from his leadership. I look forward to working with him in the years to come.”

Warren, like his predecessor, also has high-level athletic experience as a former college basketball player. The Arizona native spent one year at Penn in the Ivy League and was a teammate of current Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey before transferring to Grand Canyon University to finish his career. He went on to get an MBA at Arizona State and his law degree from Notre Dame in 1990.

Warren’s two children are athletes — his son, Powers, is a sophomore football player at Mississippi State, while his daughter, Peri, was a volleyball and track athlete at Division III Occidental College through this spring. That recent exposure as a parent gives him a unique perspective into the challenges for modern student-athletes.

“One of the areas I would love to explore more and address is to make sure that we’re creating an environment that is a holistic environment for our student-athletes, for them to learn and get a great education,” Warren said. “But also to have the resources that they need to make sure that they can be young people. And when they do face personal issues, they’re not embarrassed about it, they have resources to be able to address those and to be able to get better as people.”

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During his introductory news conference and Q&A with reporters, Warren did not go into many specifics about his positions on the hot-button topics ahead of him. He officially joins the Big Ten on Sept. 16. Warren instead said he plans to spend those three-plus months working alongside Delany before his retirement, getting to understand the nuances of what is ahead in the college sports world.

“And the thing that was exciting to me was that all the wonderful issues that we’re going have to tackle together, that we’ll be able to look back and say, ‘Do you remember back in 2019, when we had this, this, this and this?’” Warren said. “And to look back and say we not only solved it, but we did a phenomenal job in solving it. And we did it with style, grace and class.”

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