Big Ten: Is Kevin Warren now a hero?

Jul 26, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren talks to the media during Big 10 football media days at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 26, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren talks to the media during Big 10 football media days at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports /

There was a time when Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren was one of the most maligned men in college sports. This morning, it seems likely that champagne corks are being popped in his honor.

That’s because the Big Ten conference, helmed by Warren just inked college football’s biggest media rights deal of all time.

Starting in 2023 and running through 2030, the new deal with CBS, NBC and Fox Sports will see what will eventually be 16 schools once UCLA and USC arrive, splitting more than $1 billion per year.

That’s a lot of buyout money if Scott Frost and Fred Hoiberg don’t turn their respective programs around this year. Even if the increase in revenue won’t kick in until the third year of the deal.

The money is certainly the most important factor in all of this but there are plenty of other interesting tidbits in the deal, which was officially announced on Thursday morning. The agreement will also see what’s being called an “NFL style Saturday schedule.”

That schedule will allow Fox to have first dibs on most weeks for the “best” game of the slate with CBS and NBC then getting to claim other Big Ten games on the schedule for any given weekend.

CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus talked to The Athletic about the deal and laid out exactly why this agreement is such a major victory for the Big Ten, even if it leaves ESPN out in the cold.

"“The Big Ten is going to be on three major television networks from noon until 11 o’clock at night every Saturday — that is unprecedented. That’s never happened before. The way that each of the three broadcast partners are going to feed into each other and cross-promote each other throughout the day is going to be very beneficial for all.”"

It’s important to note that CBS and NBC are planning to leverage their individual streaming services, Paramount+ and Peacock, to bring college football into streaming homes that might not go out of their way to watch traditional cable channels.

And that brings us to Kevin Warren and whether or not Big Ten football fans might finally see him as a hero. Since the man has taken over as commissioner of the conference, he’s served as a kind of Bond villain-esque figure, especially for Nebraska football fans.

There has been a lot of talk about how the league has been too cold and to opaque. During the height of the COVID pandemic, it appeared to be making decisions that were self-serving and overly cautious.

Husker fans almost certainly remember when parents of players actually filed a lawsuit to get the football season started. It’s not a stretch to say that Warren was viscerally hated by a segment of the Big Ten conference’s fanbase. He was merely disliked by the rest. He almost certainly didn’t have many friends outside the league office.

And now, Kevin Warren is shepherding in the most lucrative era the conference has ever seen.

It’s not really close.

This is also one area where the Big Ten is beating the SEC quite handily. No, Nebraska nor Michigan nor Ohio State, nor any of the others will be on ESPN after that network backed out of contract talks last week.

It may not matter. Once people get used to not looking for the Big Ten ESPN or ESPNU or ESPN the Ocho, they get used to looking for it on CBS, NBC and Fox. And once people get used to looking for their favorite B1G team in the right place they get the added bonus of not having to watch a network that has set its sights on being “outrageous” as often as possible.

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So is Kevin Warren a hero now? It seems extremely unlikely that Big Ten conference fans would ever admit it. But they’re likely going to be reaping the benefits of this move through their favorite schools for the foreseeable future.