Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren leaving conference to be president of Chicago Bears

The Big Ten is losing its commissioner to an NFL team.

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren has been named the new president and CEO of the Chicago Bears. The Bears’ search for a new president began after longtime president Ted Phillips announced his retirement in September.

Now, the franchise has landed on Warren, who was named commissioner of the Big Ten in June 2019 following more than 20 years working in the NFL. Warren will "begin official club business" for the Bears "in the spring," the team said.

"Kevin is a man of integrity, respect and excellence, all of which are critical core values of the Chicago Bears, and we welcome his perspective and diverse thought to lead this storied organization," Bears chairman George McCaskey said in a statement. "He is a proven leader who has many times stepped outside of his comfort zone to challenge status quo for unconventional growth and prosperity. In this role, Warren will serve in the primary leadership position of the franchise to help bring the next Super Bowl championship trophy home to Bears fans."

Warren was a longtime executive for the Minnesota Vikings who worked his way up to chief operating officer by the end of his nearly 15-year tenure with the franchise. He also spent time working for the St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions, dating back to the late 1990s.

In the summer of 2019, Warren was announced as the next commissioner of the Big Ten, succeeding Jim Delany, who retired after a 30-year run with the conference.

Warren has had an eventful and often bumpy three years on the job. He officially took over for Delany in January 2020, just months ahead of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Warren faced widespread criticism for the way the conference handled the pandemic, including canceling the football season before reversing course only a month later.

Later on in Warren’s tenure, the Big Ten added USC and UCLA from the Pac-12 and landed a massive new media rights deal that’s worth in the range of $7 billion.

"The Council of Presidents and Chancellors for the Big Ten Conference is grateful to commissioner Kevin Warren for his valuable service to the conference and its member institutions over the past three years. He has guided the conference with an innovative spirit, a passion for people and exceptional business acumen," a Big Ten statement read.

"Commissioner Warren was pivotal in the expansion from 14 to 16 academic and athletic member institutions and leading the media rights negotiations for the conference. He has been dedicated to building inclusion and equity in the conference while championing mental health and wellness. We thank him for his service and wish him the very best in his new endeavor as the president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Bears."

Minnesota Vikings chief operating officer Kevin Warren talks to reporters after being named Big Ten Conference Commissioner during a news conference Tuesday, June 4, 2019, in Rosemont, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Minnesota Vikings chief operating officer Kevin Warren talks to reporters after being named Big Ten Conference Commissioner during a news conference Tuesday, June 4, 2019, in Rosemont, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Reports surfaced on Dec. 29 that Warren was a finalist for the Bears’ CEO and president position and had interviewed with the franchise multiple times, including an in-person interview. Since that news broke, the Big Ten “made no tangible push to keep” Warren, according to ESPN’s Pete Thamel.

Warren was reportedly not popular among the conference’s athletic directors and there had been no talks of extending his contract.

From ESPN:

The Big Ten has made no tangible push to keep him since the news broke, as Warren's approval rating with conference athletic directors remains low and the churn of Big Ten presidents and chancellors — a vast majority of the 14 have changed over since his hire in 2019 — have left him without a strong bloc of people invested in his success.

Some of the goodwill Warren had accumulated by leading the Big Ten through the additions of USC and UCLA and the record-setting television deal has been squandered. His pushes to keep expanding went against the wishes of the league's most powerful universities and stakeholders, and his public statements about expansion were viewed internally as clumsy and tone-deaf.

Those factors may have pushed Warren to seek opportunities back in the pro ranks. With the Vikings, Warren served as chief operating officer and was instrumental in the franchise's effort to build U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The Vikings also built a new practice facility during Warren's tenure.

The Bears, who hold the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL draft, are set to embark on their own stadium project after purchasing land in Arlington Heights, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

So where does the Big Ten go from here? The conference is entering a new era as it expands across the country with its new West Coast members officially coming on board in 2024. The new media rights deal — which includes Fox, CBS and NBC — begins on July 1 and runs through the 2029-30 football season, making it a seven-year deal in all.

The Pac-12 and Big 12 both recently went with outside-the-box commissioner hires, bringing in George Kliavkoff from MGM and Brett Yormark from Roc Nation, respectively.

Could the Big Ten follow a similar route and look outside the world of college athletics for its next commissioner?

"The Big Ten Conference remains in a position of strength during this pivotal time in collegiate athletics and its world-class institutions remain committed to providing an exceptional experience for our student-athletes," the conference said. "The Council of Presidents and Chancellors will work with commissioner Warren during this transition phase and begin a national search for the seventh Big Ten conference commissioner."

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