Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren is a "top candidate" to become the next president/CEO of the Chicago Bears, according to ESPN. Warren, 59, took the Big Ten's top job in 2020 after 22 years in NFL operations with the Los Angeles Rams, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings.
Warren, who is the first Black commissioner of a Power Five conference, was chief operating officer of the Vikings before coming to the Big Ten, where he has led the conference through a time of upheaval in college athletics. While his tenure with the Big Ten was first marred by the league's early decision to cancel the 2020 football season amid the COVID-19 pandemic (a move that was later reversed with a delayed start for the league), there have been some notable successes in the last couple years.
The Big Ten successfully recruited USC and UCLA away from the Pac-12 with the California powers joining the league as its newest members in 2024. The conference also announced a new seven-year media rights deal with CBS, Fox and NBC that is valued at approximately $1.2 billion annually.
Ted Phillips, who has been president and CEO of the Bears since 1999, is slated to retire in February after 39 years with one of the NFL's most storied franchises. Considering the Big Ten's headquarters are in Rosemont, Illinois -- just outside of Chicago -- a transition to leading the franchise would be natural for Warren. The Bears are eyeing a new stadium in the years to come, and Warren's experience overseeing a stadium project for the Vikings would him a fit with the franchise.
"Over the course of three decades in professional and collegiate sports, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren regularly receives unique opportunities and requests for his expertise from leaders across a variety of industries, ranging from professional sports ownership groups to private equity firms," said a statement from the Big Ten. "The Commissioner utilizes each occurrence to listen, learn and assist every stakeholder in the most appropriate and effective manner, The Commissioner remains focused on the Big Ten Conference its 14 member institutions and over 10,000 student-athletes in both regular season and postseason play."
If Warren leaves the Big Ten, the conference would enter its second commissioner search of the past four seasons, marking unprecedented turnover in the position after decades of stability. Warren's predecessor, Jim Delany, announced in March of 2019 that he planned to retire after serving in the role since 1989. However, the Big Ten would just be the latest Power Five league to undergo a change in its top spot.
Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark was named to his position on June 29 of this year, while ACC commissioner Jim Phillips and Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff have been in their roles since 2021. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has been in his role since 2015, making him the longest-tenured Power Five commissioner by a wide margin.
Though the Big Ten has navigated COVID-19, conference realignment and a new media rights deal under Warren, plenty of challenges remain for the conference. Navigating the integration of UCLA and USC into the league will bring challenges. Nationally, the future of name, image and likeness rules in college sports loom large, and the Big Ten commissioner -- whomever it is -- will have a key voice in that conversation.