C&B Chat with Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren

CLAY: We are joined now by the commissioner of the Big Ten conference, Kevin Warren. Commissioner Warren, thanks for joining us. And I gotta say right off the top: A lot of news coming down in the college sports universe —

WARREN: (chuckling) Yes.

CLAY: — with Texas and Oklahoma potentially interested in the SEC. Where were you when you heard the news, and what were your thoughts as that spread yesterday?

WARREN: Oh, I was here in Indianapolis when I heard the news. But these things have been kind of circulating from a rumor standpoint for a while. So, it did not… You know, the actual news when I heard it, it was kind of like, okay, I’ve been hearing that for the last couple weeks.

So, yeah, it’s interesting and I just think it just reaffirms what I’ve said before is that we’re at a unique time in college athletics, and all these different issues from name, image, and likeness to the impact of the Austin ruling, to college football potential expansion to potential schools joining other conferences. All those different things are where we are in college athletics. And I think you’re gonna… This will be the first of a lot of news that will happen over the next really six, to nine, to 12 months to two, to three years, that’s where we are in college athletics, and it will be an exciting time.

CLAY: If the SEC expanded to 16, does that…?

WARREN: Mmm-hmm?

CLAY: As the SEC’s primary rival, you’re running the Big Ten conference, does that to you signify that it would make sense for the Big Ten to expand to 16? How would Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC, if it happened, sort of alter the paradigm of your responsibility as the commissioner of the Big Ten, or would it at all?

WARREN: I just think from a conference alignment standpoint these are the things that you always keep in mind as far as where you are as a conference what’s the best interests of your schools from a short, medium, to long-term. And that’s not something that I would just say causes — just speaking from our conference cause — a conference like us to say, “Oh, we have to run out and figure something out.”

I mean, you always have to do what’s in the best interests, one, of your conference and also your student athletes. So that’s a great question you ask. But it’s a broader question. You know, it’s the impact on media rights agreements? What is the impact on bowl agreements? What’s the impact on operational? Are there any academic constraints or items that you need to make sure that you focus on?

So all those issues are wide-ranging. You know, it’s something that I definitely keep up on. It’s something that I always working through my own personal plan from eye conference standpoint, always looking over the horizon. So I’m just excited that we’ll have an opportunity, like I said, to start really working through these kind of issues. And so it’ll be interesting to watch and observe, and what we need to just continually focus on just always from a Big Ten standpoint, is what is the proper fit not only currently but in the future in the Big Ten conference.

BUCK: Hey, Kevin. It’s Buck here.

WARREN: Hey, Buck! How you doing?

BUCK: I’m good, sir. How you doing?

WARREN: Good to hear your voice.

BUCK: Thank you. Just want to know about the NFL. “NFL teams will be forced to forfeit if unvaccinated players cause covid-19 outbreak.” That’s the New York Post just the last few minutes now. Just wondering, is that something…? How’s that gonna work out for your conference and if you have any insight into just broader conferences out there. Is it likely that they’re gonna have a similar policy where if there’s a covid outbreak on a team and they can’t reschedule it within the existing season there may be a loss?

WARREN: Yeah, so one of the things… That’s a wonderful question. One of the things we are working on, on June 6 we had an opportunity to meet with our chancellors and presidents at our semiannual meeting with them, and they voted during that meeting to really decentralize our decision-making process and make sure that we provide those opportunities and decisions from a covid-19 policy and procedure standpoint to our 14 individual institutions.

We trust our schools. We trust their medical staffs. We trust the coaches and the athletic directors and the chancellors and presidents and everyone involved on campus, and we trust that they’re gonna do the right thing. That being said, we’re in the current process right now of gathering those proposed policies that our 14 institutions will come up with. And we’re scheduled to get those in early August.

And then once we get those, we have a system that we’re gonna lay ’em all out and then evaluate them and see if there are any gaps in what has been proposed. And if there’s anything that we need to either at the conference level or at the school level fill in to deal with some of those questions. But the beautiful thing about it is that we’re 37 days away from today of watching our kicking off the college season with watching Illinois play Nebraska.

So we’re right on time. We’re right where we want it to be to gather the information, collectively come together to do this in collaborative manner with our athletic directors and our chancellors and presidents, then make a determination to see what those decentralized policies will look like and what role, if any, the conference office will play in that. And then once we get it then we’ll take it public and announce it. But we’ll have it done in plenty enough time before the kickoff of our season that’s coming up here pretty quickly.

CLAY: We’re talking to Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. You mentioned name, image, and likeness.

WARREN: Mmm-hmm.

CLAY: It’s a crazy time in terms of all the adjustments that are going on in college athletics. What do you think the impact is gonna be — and maybe more important, when you were a college athlete, what product would you want to endorse?

WARREN: (laughing)

CLAY: Would there have been a restaurant?

WARREN: (laughing)

CLAY: Would there have been somewhere that you would have wanted to be able to say, “I’m Kevin Warren, and I love this product”?

WARREN: (laughing)

CLAY: Where was your place?

WARREN: Right. I love that question. I think NIL is quite natural and it’s here to stay. And it is just part of it. It will become part of the fabric of college athletics. It has become. And part of the fabric of college athletics. I think the schools, the conferences that are able to kind of figure out how to handle NIL from a positive standpoint will do better than other schools and conferences that do not figure out how to handle it but the student athletes deserve this.

I believe that. I’m a big believer in that. They have earned this right to monetize their name, image, and likeness. My concern, as always, is to make sure that they’re educated on to how to handle it, because a lot of people think money is numbers. Money is not a number. It’s just a different language. So when you got involved with money, you need to understand that new language.

What are the tax implications? How can you invest it? How do you handle it? You know, the impact of the team, the impact on your family and just to be smart about it, because at the end of the day you have to keep the main thing the main thing. If a student athlete is approached by the NIL opportunities because of their good student athlete and so you want to remain a good student athlete.

You want to focus on your craft and grow and learn and practice and prepare to be able to do that. So I’m excited for it. As I said, I’m all for student athletes learning. See, I’m excited about it most because I think it will be an actual apprenticeship for our student athletes to learn about business, about branding, about marketing, about sales and really about business to activate their brand. So that’s the thing that makes it most exciting for me from that standpoint.

BUCK: Kevin, can I ask you…?


BUCK: I know you just took over this role.

CLAY: Yeah, who would have endorsed… Sorry. I also asked you who you would have endorsed.

WARREN: Yeah, who I would have endorsed. That is a wonderful question. I was kind of a low-level person in college, meaning I wasn’t flashy. So it definitely would not have been a jewelry company or a clothes company. I probably would have done something with probably like leather goods. I was really into that. My dad carried a briefcase; and so I… People still tease me. I had a briefcase in high school and in college. So I probably would have loved to do like a really nice upscale leather goods company to carry my books around my college campus, and so it would have been great to be able to do something with a company like that.

BUCK: Kevin, what’s it been like to be in this role during covid. It obviously changed a lot of things up from I’m sure what your expectations were. Trial by fire but also quite an experience. What have you learned?

WARREN: I’ve learned the importance of making sure that you have to have collaboration. You have to communicate — and when you think you’ve communicated everything, keep communicating. And so I just have learned that, that it’s really important. So one of the things I’m really focusing on again this year, is to make sure that our chancellors and presidents and athletic directors and on-campus constituents and people in the conference office that we have clarity in our communication.

And probably overcommunicate and to make sure when decisions are made, that our chancellors and presidents and athletic directors and head coaches and talk to the athletic representatives and senior administrators. All the individuals on campus are involved — clearly involved — in that process. The other thing I learn is we need to count our blessings. We all do.

To think about what you all do on a daily basis is just amazing, and to have an opportunity if people had told you years ago that we’d have a chance to have a successful show like you have? This is a dream come true, and so I just always have to recognize that our goal here is to create a conference and environment that allows our student athletes the opportunity to be student athletes.

They’re not professionals; they’re amateurs. To get a world class education from one of our 14 main schools and some of our affiliate schools — and then have a chance to compete at the highest level in college athletics and compete for national championships. That’s really what the mission is here, and I think so long as we keep those priorities in mind — and it’s so good to be here at football media today to see the coaches, see our student athletes dressed in student ties and looking good, speaking very well. It just reiterates why the Big Ten is the Big Ten and it’s a special place to be able to work here.

CLAY: Kevin Warren, we appreciate the time. Good luck pursuing members 15 and 16 to try and match the SEC.

WARREN: (laughing) Okay. I appreciate that and both of you all, I appreciate the work you do every time I come on. I really enjoy it, and congratulations on your success. Keep it going. And here. I’m here for you anytime you call, and I look forward to seeing you all in person. So have a great day, and thank you for the time.

BUCK: Thank you, sir.

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