INDIANAPOLIS — Between name, image and likeness, potential College Football Playoff expansion and conference realignment, change is not just coming to college football, it’s here.
Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren took the podium at Lucas Oil Stadium on Tuesday to kick off Big Ten media days and didn’t hide his, or the conference’s, intentions moving forward.
“The Big Ten conference was born out of a desire to be bold,” Warren said, referencing the day in 1895 when seven college presidents met at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago to discuss the formation of the league. “There are two types of people in the world, they look at change as a problem or see it as an opportunity.
“I’m embracing change, I’m going to be very aggressive, I’ve been that way my entire career and I just want to make sure we build an environment because our student athletes, fans and universities deserve that.”
The most notable of those changes, the addition of Southern California and UCLA, who will join the conference in 2024.
Warren said there are a handful of reasons for their addition; chief among them is having a footprint in each of the three largest television markets — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
While Warren said the league was pleased with the existing 14 teams it had, it is also “incredibly excited” to add two of the Pac-12’s most storied programs.
“These are two incredible academic and athletic institutions, in a strong location in Los Angeles,” he said. “They have a great rich history and tradition, who are innovators, forward-thinking and are bold, who will make us even stronger as a conference.”
While Warren said he understands the optics appear as if the Big Ten is going away from its roots, when he’s evaluating decisions he asks himself two questions: why and why not.
One reason for “why,” Warren pointed out, was that outside of the Midwest, the largest Big Ten alumni base exists in southern California.
And while the expansion announcement happened this summer, Warren said it’s long been on his mind. He discussed it in his interviews before he was named commissioner in June 2019 and has sat at roundtables and had phone calls throughout the years, mapping out what the future may look like.
But while there was uncertainty in exactly how it will happen, Warren always had a vision to be on the cutting edge.
“I get asked every day, ‘what’s next?’,” Warren said. “It may include future expansion, but it will be done for the right reasons, at the right time, with our students academic and athletic empowerment at the center.
“We will not expand just to expand. It will be strategic, it will add additional value to our conference and it will provide a platform to have our student athletes to be put on a larger platform so they can build their careers.”
Warren implied all decisions need to make both dollars and sense. And nothing brings in more money than the TV rights deals, which are still in discussion. While Warren said he hopes to have an announcement on that “sooner than later,” he stopped short of putting a timeline on it.
“While the dollars are important to our member institutions, it’s really about the platform to provide stability,” Warren said. “So we can provide excellent healthcare, mental health services, life skills, programs and even educational experiences to our student athletes.”
More hot topics from Warren
Expanding the College Football Playoff: “I’m 100% supportive for College Football Playoff expansion. What is that right number? We’ll figure it out, but I’m confident we’ll get College Football Playoff expansion resolved. I feel very strongly that we need to open it up to have multiple media partners that we need to have from the college football standpoint. We need to take a holistic view, need to make sure we protect some of the critical bowl relationships.
“I’m confident … that we’ll be able to reach some resolution and again make sure we ask ourselves the right questions for the right reasons at the right time for our student-athletes and our fans.”
Name, image and likeness: “Name, image and likeness is another area that we’ve been talking about this last, past year. I still strongly believe — I’m a big proponent of name, image and likeness. I am so grateful that many of our student-athletes have been blessed with the ability to monetize their name, image and likeness.
“That said, I am disappointed that we still have to operate with these various patchwork of laws from a state-level standpoint. We need federal legislation to help put in some guardrails to make it even more cleaner, to make sure these name, image and likeness is not used as a recruiting inducement.”