The Big Ten expansion’s future is a mystery, but Kevin Warren’s grasp of the situation is not

INDIANAPOLIS — Kevin Warren is a man often pulled in a million directions at once, but in this quiet Wednesday night moment, he’s just a man done.

The Big Ten commissioner has completed all of his media day obligations. He chatted with countless TV executives and bowl reps. He caught up with each of his football coaches. And he warned the rest of college sports.

Warren used a field-level suite as his base this week, away from coaches, players and reporters spread across the turf at Lucas Oil Stadium. From this sequel he can peek and see what’s going on – and he’ll come out to spend a few minutes with state of michigan coach Mel Tucker before returning to East Lansing – but no one can see him inside. Not easily, at least.

The door to the suite is almost completely closed. It’s ajar, but just so – an apt metaphor as the conversation turns to the subject of conference realignment and expansion. Almost a month has passed since the Big Ten added USC and UCLA, and each day brought new informed (and uninformed) speculation about potential new additions to come. And they may happen one day, but it is not yet known when it will ever happen.

“The Big Ten is not in the active market,” Warren said. Athleticism. “I have to make sure that our 14 (members) are solid and strong. We have two coming in who I want to over-deliver.

“Then I think it will be obvious to the extent that there are other interests that make sense to us. … Any other areas of expansion – I think that would become obvious.

His tone is different from the day before, when he stood on a podium and said the future could include an expansion that “will be done for the right reasons at the right time” and be “strategic”. He said the Big Ten would be “aggressive”. This language doubled as a kind of wake-up call to the rest of college sports, warning in advance that the Big Ten weren’t going to sit down now that they had their new Los Angeles schools. An industry source noted that Warren may be being a bit too loose with his language at the moment, not realizing his words carried extra weight in the wake of the coup he just orchestrated. .

And now everybody’s focused on who is Next. Would the Big Ten add a real western wing – say, Oregon, WashingtonCal and Stanford? That could help USC and UCLA with Olympic sports programming and the conference in its effort to claim the late Saturday night launch window to kick off. It’s an idea that makes a lot of logical and geographic sense, but only Big Ten leaders can know if it brings enough value to execute.

Everyone is equally focused on when. That’s the more interesting question, why there’s so much breathless coverage of potential moves and postures. People seem to forget one important factor: the Big Ten started this. After a brief but noticeable period of relative calm, the Big Ten was the conference that once again got the realignment ball rolling in late June. This conference is the aggressor this time. This conference is the one that moved the others to which we must now react. The Big Ten chose to add USC and UCLA – and only those two.

The Big Ten could have added more schools at that time, if they wanted. The league could have taken half of the Pac-12, or at the very least, Oregon and Washington, if it had wanted to. There was no bidding war with the SEC for USC and UCLA; it was just the Big Ten plunging under cover of darkness.

So why should there be urgency now? Why would the Big Ten need to react to – checks notes – the Big Tenis it the proper move to add USC and UCLA?

The only reason to do Something is if you are worried about losing a valuable prize by not moving quickly. But if Our Lady believes he can retain his cherished independence for the time being, so the Irish aren’t going anywhere. If the ACC’s rights-licensing deal is as flawless as league members think, its top programs might not be available for a while. And if it’s unclear if the SEC wants to cross the country to the West Coast, what’s the rush with schools in the Pacific Northwest? Or in the Bay Area?

Maybe there isn’t. Perhaps there’s no need for a knee-jerk reaction, especially if the Big Ten boss has been weighing potential additions since before taking the job in 2019, as he said this week. He’s also had an exploratory expansion subcommittee in place for months. The league has the information it needs to act, but it knows it’s not necessary.

“The experience of adding a school is really complex; two is very complex,” says Warren. “Because of that, I really want to focus on all of our 14 schools. Our workforce is strong and for the two new members of our family arriving in 2024, I want to provide them with exceptional transition service. We have to focus on that. »

So how does he balance leaving the door open to potential new additions and avoiding the temptation to add members just because prospects are calling? Establish value for the school’s Big Ten calling. Evaluate its leadership and internal alignment. Determine if its academic profile matches the schools that would be its peers in this conference. If such stars aligned as they did with USC and UCLA, Warren thinks it would be obvious that the Big Ten should act.

“These are first-world problems,” Warren says. “But if that happened – whether in a month or four years – we would find out.”

The Big Ten is now unquestionably in a strong position. Its commissioner had been much maligned for much of the first two years of his tenure, particularly regarding his handling of the pandemic in the summer of 2020 and last summer’s ill-fated formation of an alliance with the ACC and the Pac-12 (which Warren says he doesn’t regret joining, even now). But now he’s built relationships and trust on his campuses, which has directly allowed him to add USC and UCLA while keeping developments extremely close to the vest.

Now he’s the toast of the conference, the man who delivered Los Angeles to the league and helped ensure the Big Ten could chart its own course in the future. No matter what college sports look like in five or ten years, the Big Ten will have a say.

“I wasn’t going to walk into (this job) saying, ‘Oh, well, that’s how it goes,'” Warren said. “Organizations, entities and people who are going to be able to thrive in a disruptive environment are those who are willing to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. The organizations or conferences that will come out of it in a very good position are those who are able to adapt and be agile.

In other words, the leagues best positioned to succeed are the disruptive ones. And because the Big Ten just made it, he can afford to be patient. It is a luxury granted to those who transform the landscape, those who set everyone else’s agenda. After everything Warren went through to get here, he’s earned it.

(Photo: Robert Goddin/USA Today)

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