By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Every day for Kevin Warren starts and ends the exact same way.
The Big Ten Conference’s new commissioner gets on his knees and prays for those close to him, which now includes everybody affiliated with the Big Ten, including the 10,000 students-athletes.
“I think the biggest thing for me as the new commissioner of the Big Ten is just to make sure that I remember why I took, and I call this a move, and not a job, why I took an opportunity to lead a movement,” Warren said at a Friday afternoon press conference at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “And that really is because of the opportunity that we have for our students-athletes.
“And I say this sincerely, I did it this morning and I did it last night and I’ll do it again tonight; I start every day on my knees in prayer for my family and the Big Ten Conference and loved ones, but also for the ten-thousand student-athletes that I represent on a daily basis. And I’ve always been a firm believer if we keep our student-athletes at the epi-center of all of our decisions, and we have some complicated decisions coming up over the next few years, we will make the right decisions.”
Friday’s press conference was the latest stop on Warren’s tour of the Big Ten’s 14 institutions.
He replaced the retiring Jim Delany on a full-time basis in January, becoming just the sixth Big Ten Commissioner in the 125-year history of the conference.
A former college basketball player, Warren was the Chief Operations Officer for the Minnesota Vikings before accepting the challenge of running the Big Ten Conference.
Warren considers it a privilege and an honor to be the first African-American to lead a power five conference, and to be just the sixth commissioner in the 125-year history of the Big ten Conference.
He is constantly reminded of just how select that group is with how his new office is decorated.
“There have only been five other men since 1896 to have held the job of commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, and I actually have their framed pictures on the wall in my office, and that’s the first picture that I see when I walk in in the morning,” Warren said. “And to be able to look up and see those five men; John Griffith, (Kenneth) Wilson, William Reed, Wayne Duke and Jim Delany, and to sit and think since 1896 that there’s been only five people to have held this office.
“So I don’t take it lightly. I don’t take it lightly that I’m the first African-American to lead one of those A-five conferences. So I’m always looking for opportunities to make sure that I do everything that I possibly can to build bridges, to build relationships, and hopefully, one day people will look at me in this position, not as a person of color, but as a person who was given an opportunity to work hard, to build a conference and be a leader."
The 56-year old Warren met with the media four about 30 minutes on Friday and addressed multiple topics, including his relationship with Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery, who also attended the press conference.
McCaffery was a senior point guard at the University of Pennsylvania when Warren joined the team as a freshman in 1981.
Warren would eventually transfer from Pennsylvania to Grand Canyon University where he scored 1,118 points and averaged 20.0 points per game.
But Warren credits McCaffery for being a positive influence on his life, and Warren told the media on Friday, with Fran McCaffery listening from the back of the room, that he could sense that McCaffery had what it takes to be a successful head coach.
Warren was only 17 years old when he left his home in Phoenix, Ariz., and enrolled at Penn.
“To have Fran, who was really mature, and he was a point guard both on and off the court, and I say it sincerely, I learned more about basketball from him than any other coach who I previously had,” Warren said. “And he took the time and energy and effort to mentor me, and for that, I will forever be grateful for that, Fran.”
Warren announced early on that he wanted visit each of the conference’s 14 schools this winter and spring, and that he wants to watch and be involved in every sport during his first year on the job.
“He clearly is interested in just absorbing and listening,” said Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta. “When there’s a leadership transition, it can create anxiety, apprehension, curiosity, but I can tell you from the day that I met commissioner Warren, his expertise is well documented, but his enthusiasm, his passion and his commitment to the student-athlete, have taken what could be apprehension to excitement.”
Warren said he is in favor of the one-time transfer rule that is gaining popularity, and can speak from experience.
“I've been a big believer in supporting it, and I think that's one of the reasons I was excited when I came to the Big Ten last summer to see that they had started talking about legislation about the one-time transfer rule, and I'm glad to see that we've gone forward with that,” Warren said. “And I'm pleased to see that the ACC came out and supported that.
“But as I mentioned to someone earlier today, I transferred. I transferred from the University of Pennsylvania. So when you transfer, it doesn't mean that your life is over. And so many times — you know, we have to give young people our love and support. And so many times people make decisions to go to schools for various reasons, and sometimes those decisions change. There may be a family situation. It may be a coach change situation. It may be an academic situation. But I'm a big believer that student-athletes should have an opportunity, one time, without any excuses, to be able to say I want to transfer.”
Warren also shared his opinion about whether the Big Ten Conference should play football games on Friday night, and he seems okay with it, but on a very limited basis.
Iowa will face Minnesota in the 2020 Big Ten opener on Friday, Feb. 18th in Minneapolis.
“I'm a traditionalist,” Warren aid. “And Friday nights are an interesting concept. I know we do that here in the Big Ten. I know there's been a lot of people who have been upset from a high school football standpoint. I'm comfortable with the way we have it structured, because I believe this year I think we only have two games that are structured on Friday night football. And it's on some of those nights that are done that may not have an overly negative impact with high school football.
“But at the end of the day, I'm a big believer that high school football should take place Friday night, and occasional games like we're doing it here, two games in the Big Ten on Friday nights.”
Warren also shared his views on amateurism in college sports and how it’s changed since he was a student-athlete in the mid-1980s, and where he stands on the name, image and likeness debate.
“I spend a lot of time on a daily basis thinking through those issues, and I think where we are from an intercollegiate standpoint is that we need to make sure — and I'm doing it right now, and we're doing it collectively — that we take a step back and make sure that the student-athlete is put at the epicenter of all of our decisions, and whether it's name, image and likeness and other decisions,” Warren said. “Do I believe the intercollegiate student-athletes should be treated as professionals? No. Do I believe that pay for play should exist? No. But do I believe that we have an opportunity from our current existing model to make sure that we bring into the current day and age and that we take a step back.”