Big Ten commissioner: No regrets about how 2020 football season was handled

Kevin Warren’s first year-plus as commissioner of the Big Ten has been eventful to say the least.

In making his first Big Ten Football Media Days speech as the leader of the league, he talked about the challenges — chief among them dealing with COVID-19 and its larger impact.

“To operate a conference in a global pandemic, to try to plan sporting events, we had to keep in mind that our most important item that we needed to focus on was the health and safety of our student-athletes,” Warren said Thursday in Indianapolis. “This was a very complicated and complex time in our nation, in our world, in college athletics. It was complicated for all of us. Many of us lost loved ones to COVID 19.

“This was not a perfect time for us in the conference, but it was productive. I know I personally learned many important lessons and I feel that we grew stronger together as a conference.”

More recently, the NCAA lost a major legal case that is expected to ultimately change how the organization operates, and the era of players being able to profit off their name, image and likeness began earlier this month (though the details are still being worked out at multiple levels).

All those things and more were part of Warren’s speech that lasted nearly 40 minutes.

Here are three takeaways:

1. He did not rule out future changes to Big Ten membership.

The college football world was rocked Wednesday by a report from the Houston Chronicle that Texas and Oklahoma have discussed leaving the Big 12 to join the SEC.

Were that to happen, it would likely kick off another round of conference expansion across the country as the SEC would become effectively a 16-team super league and add one of the sport’s biggest brands (Texas) along with a perennial playoff contender (Oklahoma).

“I know from where we sit we’re always constantly evaluating what’s in the best interests of the conference,” Warren said. “It will be interesting to see how that story that you mentioned yesterday, how that evolves and where it lands.”

2. He is still considering the pros and cons of expanding the College Football Playoff.

The CFP announced earlier this year it is considering increasing the number of playoff participants from four to 12, but the proposal is still being vetted by the various groups across the country.

“I am focused on picking the appropriate time to really spend the time, energy, and effort with the necessary constituents to determine when the right time is and what we need to do, how we need to structure any potential expansion of college football playoff,” Warren said. “We need to talk to our chancellors and presidents, our athletic directors, our faculty athletic representatives, our senior women administrators, our coaches, our bowl partners, our network partners, our fans — but most importantly, our student-athletes and their families.”

3. He expressed no regrets about how the league handled the football season last fall.

Although the decision was made by the Big Ten’s chancellors and presidents to first postpone then hold an abbreviated football season last fall, Warren was the subject of heavy criticism for the way he reportedly guided that group before the season was put on hold and how he explained the decision when it was made.

“You know, it’s interesting and my wife, we have this conversation about what really is the essence of regret and what does that really mean? I don’t have any regrets,” Warren said.

While the ACC, SEC and Big 12 began their seasons in September, the Big Ten ultimately did not take the field until late October.

Then Warren’s league had a harder time completing its schedule, losing 21 percent of its games compared to seven percent in the ACC, 5.5 percent in the Bi12 and three percent in the SEC according to numbers compiled by the Associated Press.

He said he would not change anything about last year, though.

“Quite naturally, we all look back over our lives and there are things we wish we would have maybe done a little bit differently, but if I had the chance to do it all over last year, I would make the same decisions that we made because one of the things that I’ve always tried to focus on — and you heard me say it today — is making sure we keep our student-athletes at the center of all of our decisions, athletically, academically, regarding college football playoff expansion, relationships with our media partners, relationships with our bowl partners, all of those different things. If we put them at the epicenter of our decisions we’re going to be okay. And we did that last year at the Big Ten.”