The Big Ten hired Minnesota Vikings executive Kevin Warren as its new commissioner Tuesday, bringing on a former college basketball player and sports agent with a law degree from Notre Dame to replace Jim Delany and become the first black commissioner of a Power Five conference.
The 55-year-old Warren has been the chief operating officer for the Vikings since 2015, the first African-American to hold that position for an NFL franchise.
“I’m ready for the challenge. I’m excited. I’m energized,” he said at his introductory news conference. “But most of all, I’m grateful.”
He will start Sept. 16 and work alongside Delany, who will step down Jan. 1 from the job he has held since 1989. The 71-year-old Delany announced his decision to step away earlier this year.
Warren grew up in Phoenix. He attended the University of Pennsylvania out of high school, but transferred to Grand Canyon University, where he scored 1,118 points. After earning an MBA from Arizona State and a law degree from Notre Dame, he worked as a sports agent throughout the 1990s. Warren has been working in the NFL for 20 years, doing stints with the St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions before settling in with the Vikings in 2005.
He will take over a sprawling conference that stretches from Rutgers and Maryland to Nebraska.
Delany helped the Big Ten grow to 14 schools, launched the first athletic conference television network, BTN, and helped create the first College Football Playoff while maintaining the conference’s ties to the Rose Bowl. League revenues soared under his leadership. He negotiated TV deals worth billions that in 2018 produced $51 million for Michigan alone.
Despite the financial successes, the conference has lagged a bit at least when it comes to national championships in the highest profile sports. No Big Ten men’s basketball team has won it all since Michigan State in 2000, and the only titles belong to Ohio State in 2002 and 2014. The Southeastern Conference has 11 championships in that span.
The Big Ten was quiet in its hiring process,, using the search firm Korn Ferry. Conventional wisdom was the Big Ten would hire someone with current ties to the conference and college sports. The selection of Warren came as a surprise because he has neither.
Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf had nothing but praise for Warren.
“He has worked tirelessly to elevate the Vikings franchise, all with the greater good of the organization and Minneapolis-St. Paul in mind,” the Wilfs said in a statement. “From the very onset, Kevin helped us navigate and execute the purchase of the franchise. He then evolved as a leader of the organization in ways we never could have imagined, leading our vision for U.S. Bank Stadium and TCO Performance Center, developing a world-class fan experience and implementing many initiatives that have transformed our franchise with the benefit of our employees and Vikings fans top of mind.”
The Vikings said they would work with Warren and “how we want to move forward.”