When former longtime Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney stepped down in the beginning of the new year, the Big Ten decided to make a decision that would create several firsts when they decided to appoint a tenured Minnesota Vikings executive, Kevin Warren. Warren is not only the first ever African American commissioner of the Big Ten, he is also the first African American to ever hold the position in any of the "Power Five" conferences.
When Warren was elected by the Big Ten, he had one monumental goal that he wanted to accomplish: visit all 351 Big Ten teams. He continued that same quest on Sunday afternoon when he visited the Michigan State men’s tennis team when they took on the Arizona State Sun Devils.
For 29-year coach Gene Orlando, it was special to have him in attendance.
“It was pretty exciting,” Orlando said. “It is great that he's committed to the student athlete's wellness ... it was great to be a part of his tour.”
Warren began his journey on Jan. 26, when he saw Ohio State men’s and women’s basketball. This tennis match on Sunday afternoon was his eleventh of the weekend, starting last Thursday.
“It's been enjoyable,” Warren said. “I made a promise, not only to myself, but also to the conference, that I would make sure I see all 350 of our Big Ten teams compete. We're off to a good start and have been Indiana to see men's and women's basketball and was at Ohio State and saw hockey, some volleyball, women's lacrosse and pistol shooting. And then was at Michigan yesterday to see men's lacrosse and some hockey and we're here today to see men's tennis, so looking forward to it.”
Despite all the places he’s already been, he says he can’t declare a favorite stop yet, because they’re all so unique.
“Really I haven't, all of them are so different,” Warren said. "But I say 'different' in a positive way. It's been really enjoyable. That's one of the things I like about this job is to really embrace the differences. All the cities are different. That’s one reason I think it is important for me to be able to do my job at the highest level. I have to go out and be able to see these different environments and how I can help.”
One of the most important things for Warren as the new Big Ten commissioner is to let the students know that he is here for all them, no matter what the sport is.
“There are some really talented players that we have in the Big Ten,” Commissioner Warren said. “I just want them to know how important they are to me, to be here on Sunday morning. To spend the morning here with them to let them know that I not only care about them as athletes, but also as students, but most of all, as people. I want to make sure that we put all of our programs in place for mental health and wellness to voter registration, to financial literacy, to internships, to show them that the Big Ten is a great place to come and get an education to be an athlete, to be a student."
Warren said he enjoyed watching non-revenue sports like tennis.
“It’s exciting,” Warren said. “My wife is a tennis fan and she plays competitively, so I really enjoy it. This is big-time college tennis and some of these people you're going to see on the pro tour one day.”
Aside from all the sports, Warren loves seeing what the student athletes do after their playing careers are done in the Big Ten.
“The good thing about this though is you also see a lot of them become school teachers, doctors, lawyers and professors,” Warren said.
Look out for Warren at the next Spartan sporting event you attend, because he might be there.