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Big Ten heads to NFL ranks for new commissioner hire

The Big Ten Conference today named Kevin Warren its new commissioner, with the Minnesota Vikings Chief Operating Officer set to succeed the outgoing Jim Delany effective Sept. 16.

The 55-year-old Warren, who was the first African-American COO in National Football League history, will leave the Vikings after nearly 15 years with the club and 21 in the NFL overall. With the Big Ten, he will become the first African-American commissioner of a Power Five athletic conference. With the Vikings, he helped oversee the development of U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened in 2016 and served as host of Super Bowl LII last year. He also has played a key role in creating the Vikings’ new headquarters in Eagen, Minn., and serves on the NFL’s Committee on Workplace Diversity.

“Kevin is a visionary leader, an experienced, successful and highly respected executive, and a skilled communicator who is uniquely positioned to continue the traditions of excellence that have become synonymous with the Big Ten Conference, said Michael A. McRobbie, Indiana University president and chair of the executive search committee.

Delany announced in March he would be stepping down from the job he held for 30 years and oversaw historic amounts of expansion, revenue growth, and realignment in college athletics over that time. Delany will officially leave Jan. 1 after aiding Warren through a transition period. 

The Big Ten worked with search firm Korn Ferry to fill the position. And despite Warren’s accomplishments, his hire comes as something of a surprise as he has no prior ties to conference, and has not previously worked in college sports at all.

“To have an opportunity to lead the Big Ten and follow in the shoes of Jim Delany is truly an honor,” said Warren, who was hit by a car as an 11-year-old and nearly died then. “It will definitely be a challenge. But my entire life has been about challenges and overcoming challenges.”