The Big Ten will gladly dismantle you if that's what it decides is best
INDIANAPOLIS — The Big Ten is not here to play nice. It intends to swallow you whole, if that’s what the Big Ten decides is best for the Big Ten.
Aggressive language was liberally sprinkled into B1G commissioner Kevin Warren’s opening statement at Big Ten Media Days.
Strength. Power. Boldness. Authority. Dominance.
Warren emphasized each of those words as he made it clear the Big Ten won’t take a backseat — or even ride shotgun — with any other conference.
A year after touting an Alliance with the ACC and Pac-12, Warren made it clear there are no allies in this world. The B1G is doing its own thing with little regard to how it affects the rest of the collegiate landscape.
Greed, in Warren’s eyes, is clearly good.
For those of us who revere the traditions that accentuate the differences between college and pro sports, well, tough luck.
“It is important for all of us in business to recognize that we’re in a time of change,” he said. “I think there’s two types of people in the world: that they look at change as it’s a problem, or they look at change as an opportunity.
“I’m one of those individuals that, when change occurs, I get excited about it. It’s really an opportunity for us to do a lot of things that people have thought about but maybe been a little bit reticent to do.
“So 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 and our fans and our universities deserve that. I just want to make sure we’re aggressive how we build this. We’ve got to do it in the right way for the right reasons at the right time.”
The right reason at the right time, of course, is code for “whatever makes us the most money at the time that will make us the most money.”
Thus, the B1G waits on Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish will make the most money at any time. And when they decide whether or not they’ll come along, the Big Ten will dictate what happens next.
Warren made it clear the conference expansion carousel is not over until the Big Ten says so.
“I get asked every single day, ‘What’s next?'” he said. “It may include future expansion, but it will be done for the right reasons at the right time. We will not expand just to expand. It will be strategic; it will add additional value to our conference.”
The Pac-12 is … Sears?
Warren made an analogy that should make Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff even more uncomfortable than losing USC and UCLA to his former “ally.”
Though he didn’t come out and say it explicitly, Warren seemed to be comparing the Pac-12 — and maybe even the ACC — to former retail giant Sears.
“There’s a Sears and Roebuck building on the highway that you see when you go from South Bend to Chicago, and I’ve pointed that out to my kids. I’ve pointed it out to many people who have been in the car with me before,” Warren said. “As a young person born in the ’60s, I remember it was a happy day when my parents would bring us the Sears and Roebuck catalog to pick our birthday gifts out of. We would be excited to order those.
“Those catalogs aren’t in existence anymore. Sears and Roebuck is not in existence anymore. So I think it’s important to put very creative, aggressive, bold minds in a room together. Fortunately, I have colleagues here in the Big Ten Conference to think about these ideas. I don’t want to be Sears and Roebuck.”
There is nothing to suggest the Big Ten would suffer the same fate as Sears unless Warren legitimately believed the SEC would one day make a play for Los Angeles schools. And given that the cultural divide between those entities is even wider than the geographical one, there’s simply no way that was ever happening.
This move was about sensing the Pac-12’s weakness and exploiting it. Warren revealed a nugget that suggests he played Kliavkoff like a fiddle in their supposed partnership.
Warren said that he went into his interview to replace Jim Delany as B1G commissioner with an eye toward which schools would add value to the conference. USC and UCLA were near the top of that list.
“I studied every one of the universities across the country. One of the things that jumped out about USC, UCLA, and even the market of Los Angeles — the largest section of Big Ten alumni, other than in the Midwest, is in Los Angeles.
“So I’ve spent a lot of time even before I came to the Big Ten, once I accepted the job in the Big Ten, and even these last couple years, always analyzing each and every school and what it means just for college athletics, what it means for the Big Ten Conference, and to make sure that any time we have an opportunity to add incredible value, that we are prepared.”
If that’s true, then nothing about the Alliance was done in good faith. It was simply a backdoor means of showing USC and UCLA how much greener the grass could be on the other side.
Or maybe it’s not true, and Warren is puffing himself up to look like a visionary.
Neither tactic makes him feel like a particularly trustworthy partner. But perhaps that won’t matter much now that Warren holds the most important cards outside of Notre Dame and the SEC.
If your program is of no use to the B1G, he’s willing to see it turned into the Sears catalog. If you don’t get on board, you’ll be next. And if you don’t share that vision for college athletics, apparently you’re just living in the past.