Kevin Warren is only 55 days into the job as Big Ten commissioner, but his 2020 schedule already is packed.
He came to the University of Minnesota campus Tuesday, the third stop of 14 town halls at all of the conference’s institutions, to discuss his priorities for his tenure atop a Power Five conference. From diversity to mental health to hockey, Warren has a lot of ideas. But he’ll have to fit those in between watching all 350 Big Ten teams and 10,000 student-athletes compete.
“Women’s basketball, men’s basketball, water polo, synchronized swimming, pistol shooting,” Warren said. “I’ll be able to put my eyes on every team over the course of the year, just to show, one, my commitment, and two, to learn.”
Student-athletes No. 1
Whatever decision he makes, Warren said he’ll always think first about how it will affect student-athletes. Whether it be expanding the College Football Playoff or deciding whether student-athletes should be able to make money off their name, image and likeness, Warren is committed to creating the best situation for the student-athletes.
“We’re in the process of working on the most comprehensive mental health and wellness platform, to make sure that we really educate and embrace and empower our student-athletes,” Warren said. “We’re working on voter registration to make sure that everyone who wants to be registered to vote has that opportunity to be registered to vote. And then we also want to make sure that they’re financially literate.”
Keep Big Ten on top
Warren wants to build a “financially robust” conference by continuing to forge more relationships with corporations in the Big Ten area. He also wants to ensure the fan experience is safe, fun and cost-effective. And he’s not afraid to address the areas where the Big Ten isn’t among the best, such as hockey, where the programs have history and facilities but not recent national championships.
“I made it very clear hockey was a priority to me,” Warren said. “… I want to make sure that we create a conference that dominates hockey, and up until now, I can say that we have not done that.”
The commissioner will surround himself with veteran hockey experts to help guide that sport’s direction.
Forefront of change
College sports are on the precipice of major change, and Warren isn’t shying away.
“I believe over the next five years,” he said, “decisions that we will make will impact intercollegiate athletics for the next 50 to 100 years.”
The former Vikings chief operating officer took a strong stance on the newly proposed transfer rule that would essentially allow free agency with student-athletes immediately playing upon transferring. He believes that should be allowed once without divulging personal information to justify it. But a second time should require the student-athlete to sit out a year.
Warren doesn’t believe student-athletes should be paid to play, but he thinks the issue is broader than just the current legislation around name, image and likeness. He’s more concerned with the holistic view, making sure student-athletes have the best education — with no restrictions on majors that might conflict with their sport — so they can earn money in their professional careers.
Improving racial and gender diversity in sports is also important to Warren, and he wants to provide more opportunities for people of all backgrounds.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Warren said. “And I will definitely make sure and be a voice for just diversity and inclusion at every single level.”