Schwartz: Warren’s Got Big Shoes To Fill

June 6, 2019

Written by David Schwartz

If you’re the kind of Hawkeye fan who is more of a Big Ten college person than an overall college person, Monday’s announcement that Kevin Warren will replace Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany at the end of this year should be met with doses of optimism and dashes of apprehension.

This is especially true if you measure success by financial security, outlook, and positioning.

Around the college football universe, especially in Southeastern Conference and Big 12 circles, you’ve likely witnessed the collective eyeroll whenever Ohio State snuck into a playoff or a high bowl game during a year when they might not have deserved it. They’re able to do so because Delany has spent the last 30 years building an impenetrable fiscal fort around the conference, one fortified with exposure, well-timed expansion, and smart branding.

Whether Big Ten teams such as Iowa so consistently deserve to get a 10-meter head start in a 100-meter dash is a conversation for another day. Today, let’s give Delany, focused, stubborn, and unflinching in his mission to guide the Big Ten beyond other conferences, his due. We’re not going to argue that the Big Ten plays better football than the SEC, which it doesn’t, or that it has a better basketball brand than the Atlantic Coast Conference, which it doesn’t. What we must establish, however, is that no conference has had better leadership over the last few decades than the Big Ten.

There’s not even a close second.

The incoming Big Ten commissioner, Kevin Warren, will step into shoes that are so impossible to fill that I hope we can resist the temptation to compare him to Delany. We should be grateful that Warren has the foresight and Delany the willingness to spend 3½ months working together during a transition period. Warren will also bring a successful track record into his new role.

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There’s no reason to think Warren won’t continue to succeed on behalf of the Big Ten schools he soon will need champion. There’s only reason to worry that, like literally every other conference commissioner in all of college athletics, he won’t be as successful as Delany. Even if Warren achieves 90 percent of what Delany did, Warren’s tenure will eventually be hailed as an indisputable success.

If ever you need a visual aid to understand the full breadth and depth of Delany’s success, take a walk sometime around the University of Iowa’s athletic facilities. Without any doubt much credit for new construction must go to athletic director Gary Barta and his staff for successful fundraising and fiscal responsibility. At the same time, their financial thumbprint doesn’t match Delany’s.

Delany’s greatest success remains Big Ten Network and the other broadcast deals he struck, which along with secondary revenue sources pour at least $50 million in revenue into each Big Ten school per year.

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Upscale practice facilities, coaching salaries, travel opportunities for athletes in non-revenue sports, building renovations – none would be possible at the current funding levels without Delany’s leadership.

So can he be a bit of a stick in the mud? Sure. His views on compensating athletes range from naïve to cruel. But from a wider, more macro perspective that doesn’t take into consideration an athlete’s right to fully capitalize on their talent, Delany’s presence has been worth it.

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Far more than worth it, if you’re a Big Ten fan.

Because without Delany, the strong, financially healthy Big Ten that we know today wouldn’t exist.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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