Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren took over for Jim Delany on Jan. 2 of this year and since then has dealt with situations that no commissioner has ever dealt with. But through it all — from the postponement of Big Ten fall sports in August to the announcement this week that the league would start its football season in late October — Warren has stayed thoughtful and patient.
"There is no playbook of leading an athletic conference during a global pandemic," Warren said. "We're facing uncertain and unprecedented times, and the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, our coaches, our game officials, administrators, fans and families and everyone else associated with our sports programs and on our campuses remains our No. 1 priority. I have just had to remain just kind of disciplined and organized and very methodical and follow the advice and counsel of our medical experts."
While Warren has focused on health first, he has faced a lot of unjust criticism. But he said he would not trade this year for anything.
"I think this year just has been complicated. I mean, you think about it. Not only from a health standpoint, we have financial issues that we're dealing with, global pandemic, but then also all of the social unrest in an election year," Warren said. "But because I always look for the positive energy associated with it, I always ask myself, even though it has been some painful days this year, I ask myself, when I look back to when I started on January 2, are we better as a conference? Am I better as a leader? The answer is yes. It's painful, but it's really that sometimes pain and challenges provide you with an opportunity to get stronger and create greatness."
Warren said he has relied on his faith to stay humble while fans and the media have tried to steer the conversation.
That was especially true with the Return to Competition Task Force that featured everyone from University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel and athletic director Mark Coyle to Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez, Penn State Vice President Sandy Barbour and Ohio State team physician Jim Borchers.
Warren leaned on that group to bring players back safely and to work out a schedule.
"What I have tried to work on is not even to say what is right but to make sure that we have alignment. Alignment is critical. That's why it starts with collaboration and communication and really transparency," he said. "You have to be comfortable in your decisionmaking process to ask yourself what can we do to get better? I know today we are so much better as a conference than we were 60 days ago, because we know more. When you know more you have new information. Sixty days ago we didn't know about the ability to have daily rapid tests; we can do that now. Now we're in a position."
"We have 10,000 student-athletes in the Big Ten. ... My focal point has been and always will be to make sure that they are taken care of from a mental and physical health standpoint."
Warren knows that even with the announcement of a Big Ten schedule that will see the Gophers open with Michigan at TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 24, the conference will continue to examine its plans.
"We just have to be nimble. You see our schedule, but we have to be nimble. We'll have nine straight weeks of football," he said. "We have built a really good schedule and [are] looking forward to some great football."
Is he able to look forward to this season?
"Oh yeah, I'm excited," Warren said. "I spent 21 years in the NFL, I love football. Football has been in my family. My dad [Morrison Warren Sr.] was a college football student-athlete at Arizona State. My brother [Morrison Warren Jr.] was a football student-athlete at Stanford. My son [Powers Warren] is playing now at Mississippi State. I was a college basketball student-athlete. But I spent the last 21 years of my life in the NFL. Not having football, to me it's a huge part of my life. I'm really looking forward to that and all of our other sports."
On one key topic, Warren said he hopes the NCAA will let players like great Gophers receiver Rashod Bateman return to play after they signed deals with agents.
"All I hope is that the NCAA is reasonable for these young men to have done everything that they're supposed to do and now to want to have a chance to come back and compete in college and to delay their next step of becoming a professional, that is good for college sports. That is great for college football," Warren said. "It also says a lot about these young men that they're unselfish. They're focused on continuing their education and competing. I think it's great. ... I always try to ask myself what's the right thing to do, what's the wise thing to do? The wise thing to do is let these young men be able to compete and finish their college careers on a high note."
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• Pro Football Focus on former Gopher Antoine Winfield Jr. making his debut for Tampa Bay last week against the Saints: "[He] had an encouraging first start, as well. He forced an incompletion in coverage and had one missed tackle on six attempts. He split his time fairly evenly between the box [28 snaps] and deep [34 snaps]."
• The Vikings faced new Colts quarterback Philip Rivers last season when he was with the Chargers and forced three picks in a 39-10 win, but co-defensive coordinator Adam Zimmer said Rivers can make every play. "He's always been a guy that's going to throw the ball around; that's what makes him great," Zimmer said. "He takes some chances and that's led to some interceptions, but he makes more throws than he misses."
• Former Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo is off to a great start with the Browns, totaling 14 tackles over two games, including a team-high 10 in their 35-30 win over the Bengals on Thursday.
• According to Jimmy Shapiro with BetOnline out of Las Vegas, the Twins are tied with the Cubs at eighth for World Series odds at 16-1.
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