Moving forward, is Kevin Warren the right person to lead the B1G?
Kevin Warren could be Big Ten Commissioner for another 20 years, and he probably won’t ever have a career-defining moment like he had this week when the conference announced it was postponing the football season.
Perhaps it’s not fair that Warren, in his first year as commissioner, will always be remembered for making an impossible decision during one of the most challenging times in our country’s history. But life isn’t fair. Just ask the guys who had their season canceled.
Time will tell whether that was the right decision. What’s clear right now is that Warren is coming off as a shaky leader and communicator after replacing Jim Delany. Is he the right person to lead the B1G? It’s been a rough start, and that’s putting it mildly, especially compared not only with Delany’s accomplishments and stature but also the manner in which Greg Sankey has guided the SEC through the same obstacles.
The SEC has been slow and steady. The B1G has been a circus for the past week, and that falls on Warren. Think about this — he is now openly feuding with 3 of the league’s most prominent programs in Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska. In a time of players being united, the coaches are united, too — against Warren.
Meanwhile, Warren has given zero indication as to what playing in the spring would even potentially look like, or what would have to happen in order to have a season. Purdue coach Jeff Brohm revealed a proposal Thursday morning, and while I’m not crazy about starting the 2021 fall season in October (we might not have a choice if we still care about the players’ health and wellness), at least Brohm is trying to map this out. He’s thinking ahead. That’s more than we can say about the Big Ten, which is stumbling through this without any clear direction.
When someone like Brohm publicly releases a plan and sends it to all of the national media, it makes you wonder: Do these coaches have any faith in Warren and his staff? Shouldn’t he be discussing this plan behind the scenes with the league administrators and coaches? Brohm told Yahoo Sports that he’s open to working with the B1G on this, which would indicate that he has not done that yet. It’s also interesting that in that plan, Brohm notes that it was “brought up by (Jim) Harbaugh and discussed among Big Ten coaches on several calls when talking about a (2021) fall plan.” No mention of Warren.
Warren’s leadership behind the scenes has been a disaster, too. The coaches clearly felt like they were out of the loop on all of the plan to postpone and were caught off guard. Like the players, they openly defied Warren by insisting that the B1G proceed with the plan it had laid out just days earlier. On Wednesday, Penn State’s James Franklin, Ohio State’s Ryan Day and Nebraska’s Scott Frost were still talking about not accepting the decision and still playing in the fall.
Day revealed Wednesday just how unorganized everything was going to be this fall, saying that testing and travel protocols weren’t set. ”Because of that, I wasn’t ready to play a game,” he said. “However, I thought we could get there.” He added that the decision was made this week, so “we’ll never quite know.” It’s mind boggling that the B1G decided it was going to start playing games on Labor Day weekend and this stuff still wasn’t set. What has Warren been doing the past 5 months?
Ryan Day says the Big Ten's testing and travel protocols weren't set: "Because of that, I wasn't ready to play a game. However, I thought we could get there."
He says the decision was made this week, so "we'll never quite know." So now, he says, they move on.
— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) August 12, 2020
It’s obvious that there is a lack of direction for the fall. How has Warren not advised his coaches as to how to proceed? There are 100 players in these programs, plus 15-20 2021 recruits, all looking for guidance. We are in uncharted waters, but there needs to be a plan. The players deserve that. It’s pretty clear that the Big Ten hasn’t had much of one all along.
Watching Ryan Day's press conference from earlier today. So much disgust in his voice when he said "There has been nothing that's come from the Big Ten regarding moving forward."
— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) August 12, 2020
It became obvious that Warren was in over his head when he was ill-prepared to go on Big Ten Network with Dave Revsine after the announcement was made. Revsine, for the most part, asked the basic questions we all wanted to know, like what changed? What was the process that led to the decision? What did the medical experts tell you? Warren sidestepped the questions, so much so that Revsine had to repeat questions after the non-answers. It was like watching a political interview. Revsine even gave Warren an opening to discuss myocarditis, and Warren did not go into detail.
The Pac 12, meanwhile, released a medical document that revealed why it couldn’t move forward. Warren said that the B1G would keep its information internal. The Big 12 seemed to talk through all of this behind the scenes and worked together to find a solution with medical personnel, while Big Ten schools seem to be caught off-guard and frustrated at the lack of information. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby acknowledged in his statement that he heard the voice of his athletes.
Before their presidents OK'ed to continue the season, Big 12 ADs got briefed for 90 minutes tonight by a medical panel, which led to vigorous debate.
Sources tell @SINow that conference plans to add an extra layer of protocol involving heart imaging tests for COVID-19 patients.
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) August 12, 2020
When a monumental decision like this is made — crushing the dreams of thousands of players, putting the conference in a significant financial and competitive hole — Warren needed to be upfront with players, coaches and fans as to what exactly what led to the decision. What did the university presidents say? What did the medical advisory board say? There needed to be transparency. There needed to be accountability. Warren failed to quell the frustrations so many in B1G country are feeling. Everyone wanted answers as to what led to this historic moment, and Warren didn’t have them.
The Big Ten now has an image problem nationally. Recruits will take note, believe that. You aren’t seeing this sort of uprising from Pac-12 coaches. Makes you wonder, were they actually communicating behind the scenes about what was happening? Since Warren is in his first year, he doesn’t have the relationships to navigate these muddy waters. He’s certainly not making any friends with the way he has handled this.
It’s also worth monitoring what happens with Warren’s son, who plays for Mississippi State. As of Thursday morning, he has not opted out of the season. That will be a PR disaster if his son plays, and the Big Ten does not. It will sow even more distrust. Just in general, the B1G should be praying that the SEC, ACC and Big 12 have to postpone, too, because it will only make Warren look worse if they play.
This has been one of the worst weeks in college football history. We deserved answers, and instead we got Warren stumbling through an interview in which the host had to repeatedly ask him the same questions. We deserved some clarity and direction, and instead we have frustrated coaches who don’t know where to go from here — and are taking it in their own hands to craft a plan.
Pre-pandemic, the B1G had established itself as the No. 2 conference in college football. At this rate, that might no longer be the case come 2021.
It’s time for Kevin Warren to be a leader and show the way forward — something he has failed to do in the past week.