Commissioner Kevin Warren recovers from a rocky start by leading the Big Ten: 'We are a powerful and dominant force'

INDIANAPOLIS — Kevin Warren introduced Ohio State’s Ryan Day at Big Ten media day, the last coach to take the stage at the two-day event, and the two men exchanged a big hug and smiles before posing for a photo. .

“I want to congratulate Commissioner Warren on a great couple of months that took this conference into the future,” Day said Wednesday as he began his 15-minute podium talk about the Buckeyes.

A little less than two years since he was ridiculed in and out of the Big Ten for the conference decision. to postpone the fall football season Due to the pandemic, Warren now sits atop a sprawling empire that has never been more powerful.

Earlier this month The Big Ten announced that USC and UCLA will join the conference in 2024. In the coming weeks, Warren and the Big Ten are expected to unveil the conference’s new media rights deal that could be worth $1 billion a year.

To put it in sporting terms, Warren’s comeback has been more impressive than Ohio State erasing a 14-point deficit to beat Utah in the Rose Bowl.

Given the opportunity to finish the ball at Lucas Oil Stadium this week and revel in the redemption of his reputation, Warren passed by.

“The minute you use any energy to distract yourself from the energy you need to achieve your goal, it can have negative ramifications,” Warren, 58, told the AP. “So I have to stay in the moment.”

Warren’s hiring in 2019 to replace Jim Delany was a surprise within the industry. The attorney and former Minnesota Vikings executive with no college sports experience was an unorthodox choice at a time when so much change was on the horizon.

Then the pandemic hit, and any chance Warren had to become the job was gone. He immediately needed to move on to managing an unprecedented crisis while he continued to meet the university leaders he works for and the athletic directors he works with.

On August 10, 2020, the Big Ten announced that they would not be playing football that fall. The decision was made by a majority vote of the conference presidents and chancellors, but Warren became the target of criticism. None was louder than Columbus, Ohio, home of the Buckeyes.

Angry fans, disgruntled parents of the players, and frustrated coaches and athletic directors who disagreed with the decision. questioned Warren’s fitness for the job.

And some people did much worse.

Warren said he received death threats that forced him to hire security and change the way he traveled to ensure his family was safe.

Warren said she remembers that decision with no regrets, but also acknowledges that some of the criticism of her leadership was valid.

“I think he really learned that working across the board with presidents and chancellors and athletic directors and faculty athletic representatives, how vitally important that is in this business,” Maryland athletic director Damon Evans said.

Finally the conference reversed its decision in the fall of 2020 and played an abbreviated season that put Ohio State in the national championship.

“This is a tough job to begin with,” said former Wisconsin coach and athletic director Barry Alvarez, who works as an adviser to Warren at Big Ten Football. “To get past that, I don’t care who would have been there, it would have been a difficult situation. I just think Kevin is a grinder.”

As the woes of the pandemic subsided, Warren was able to turn her attention to the business of putting her stamp on the Big Ten.

No business for a college sports conference is bigger than its media rights contract.

While the TV deal was always a win for Warren, the addition of USC and UCLA from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten was a lightning strike that few saw coming. One that will reshape the landscape of college sports: Warren’s legacy.

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But just as Warren was not solely responsible for the 2020 postponement, adding a West Coast wing of the Big Ten was not the vision and execution of one man.

The realignment will also be a boon for Fox Sports, which is already the Big Ten’s main television partner and is expected to get a bigger share of the conference in the next deal.

Warren said the people she respects as leaders, from the Rev. Martin Luther King to CEOs like Richard Davis and Shelly Ibach, have a common belief that she tries to live by.

“One, not only do they never take credit for themselves, but in their heart, they never think they deserve credit. And that’s what I think,” Warren said. “And I think the real leaders, the great leaders, actually want to take the blame. They don’t want others around them to take the blame.”

Warren said Day’s courtesy was appreciated but also meaningful.

“This shows that we are a united front,” Warren said. “And I admit, I didn’t have that.”

“What I’m probably most pleased with is that I think people are starting to really understand that when the Big Ten are unified, we’re a dominant and powerful force in college athletics. And we are a powerful and dominant force in all of athletics.”

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