Big Ten reaches into NFL executive ranks, hires Vikings COO as its next commissioner
Kevin Warren is set to succeed Jim Delany in 2020, the Big Ten announced Tuesday
The Big Ten on Tuesday announced its successor to longtime commissioner Jim Delany, and that successor is both a surprising and trailblazing name. Kevin Warren, the COO of the Minnesota Vikings, will be taking Delany's place on Sept. 16 and work alongside the exiting commissioner. Delany, who took over in 1989, will then step down on Jan. 1, 2020.
"To have an opportunity to lead the Big Ten Conference, and follow in the shoes of Jim Delany is truly an honor," Warren said at his introductory press conference.
"I'm ready for the challenge. I'm excited. I'm energized. But most of all, I'm grateful."
The announcement marks a vastly different direction for the Big Ten than what has been rumored for the last several months. Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips, who has been with the Wildcats since 2008 and is one of the nation's highest-paid ADs, was long thought to have been the leading candidate to take over as the conference's commissioner. However, the Big Ten had been air-tight when it came to its pursuit.
Still, this is a milestone move not just for the Big Ten but for all of college football as Warren will become the first African-American commissioner of a Power Five league.
Warren, 55, has previous experience with the Rams and Lions and also made similar history in the NFL. When he joined the Vikings in 2015, he became the highest-ranking African-American NFL executive working in a business role for a franchise and the first African-American COO in NFL history.
"My health is really good. I don't feel any different than I did 10 or 15 years ago. Retirement as a certain connotation to it related to rest. I'm going to be doing some things, probably several things," he told CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd upon his retirement announcement in March. "I don't know if it will be teaching. I don't know if it will be speaking. I don't know if it will be consulting. I don't know if I open up a business. Some combination."
Plenty changed in the Big Ten and outside of it during his tenure. When Delany took over the job, the conference was still at 10 schools just like its name implies. Delany was instrumental in bringing Penn State into the fold in 1990 (football joined the conference in 1993). That addition was a complete surprise to some as Delany worked behind the scenes in 1990 to land the Eastern independent power. The expansion came during a time when college football was remaking itself.
Delany also oversaw the creation of the Big Ten Championship Game in football, as well as the launch of the Big Ten Network; he helped bring the conference into the 21st century and keep it ahead of the curve on the always-evolving college football landscape. The Big Ten was also the first conference to develop and implement an instant replay system during Delany's tenure.
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