The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, January 28, 2020 1:00 am

New Big Ten commissioner visits Indiana

Attends IU men's, women's basketball games

CAMERON DRUMMOND | For The Journal Gazette

BLOOMINGTON – Kevin Warren has ambitious plans for the Big Ten.

Warren, the former chief operating officer of the Minnesota Vikings, officially succeeded Jim Delany on Jan. 2, becoming the sixth Big Ten commissioner and the first African-American commissioner of a Power Five conference.

He describes himself as having “big ears and a little mouth,” traits that should serve him well as he settles in as the conference's new leader.

Warren plans to watch every Big Ten varsity team compete in 2020. All 350 of them.

He's already checked four off the list, having been inside Assembly Hall on consecutive days for an Indiana men's basketball game against Maryland on Sunday and a women's basketball game against Minnesota on Monday.

But Warren's two-day trip to Bloomington offered more than just a photo-op.

It's also a goal of Warren's to tour all 14 Big Ten institutions and speak to students, coaches and administrators.

Warren said he wants to foster a dialogue between the conference and those at its member schools about the topics most salient to them.

One of the chief issues in this regard is the ability of NCAA athletes to profit off their name and image likeness. Warren carefully addressed that subject when speaking to the media Monday inside Memorial Stadium.

“Is the system in college sports broken? I think there's an opportunity (that) exists now for us to improve it,” Warren said. “Ask ourselves honestly, are the student-athletes that we're talking about, are they at the core of all of our decisions?”

“So many times in life, in community, in society, people think (that) just money solves all issues. ... I don't want to take that easy road.”

Other topics Warren discussed concerned off-the-field issues. The new commissioner listed the mental health and wellness of athletes as one of his principal concerns.

He recounted a story from his youth, when as an 11-year-old he suffered a compound fracture in his femur and was in a body cast as the result of a car crash he “was blessed to survive.” He cited the lack of mental health attention he received when recovering.

“I want to make sure that if our student-athletes need help and they have concerns ... I want to make sure they know we are there,” Warren said.

Warren listed other day-to-day lessons, from voter registration to financial literacy, was areas for which he hopes to provide resources.

Back on the field, Warren said he would evaluate the merits of the current construction of the East and West divisions in football, a topic relevant to Indiana given the historically elite programs including Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State that the Hoosiers face each year as a member of the East.

Regarding the nine-game conference schedule in football and the 20-game schedule in men's basketball, Warren stood firm, championing the durability and experience it gives Big Ten teams prior to postseason competition.

But one of the points to which Warren continually returned was the conversations he had with student-athlete representatives from Indiana.

“You're able to talk to a really bright group of young students ... and you get a good sample size as far as issues they're facing, issues that the entire student body is facing,” Warren said.

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