Kevin Warren BIG-bound

Courtesy of the Big Ten Kevin Warren

NFL and Vikings lose big!

One man’s opportunity and expectations can sometimes change the course of history. Such may prove to be the case with Vikings COO Kevin Warren’s move in September to the Big Ten Conference (BIG) as commissioner — the first African American to lead any Power Five conference. Warren will leave his position with the Vikings after 15 years and succeed Jim Delaney who is retiring after 30 years.

2019 is the 100th celebration of the number-one game in sports: football. The National Football League (NFL) has by leaps and bounds captured the imagination of its fans. Men, women and advertisers have jumped on board, and the NFL continues to soar.

The three R’s — ratings, revenue, and results — are the bottom line, and the NFL and its entertainment value have soared past Major League Baseball, the NBA and NHL as the most popular sport.

For the last 15 years, Warren, the Vikings’ chief operating officer, has followed in the footsteps of the foundation Dennis Green laid as head coach and vice president and has elevated himself and the Minnesota Vikings organization since the Wilfs became owners.

Green on the field led the Vikings to the playoffs, drafting Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper and coaching Hall-of-Fame players Randall McDaniel, John Randle and Cris Carter to name a few. Eight times in 10 years Green guided the team to the playoffs, twice reaching the NFC title game.

Green had to deal with the Vikings’ shaky ownership controversy. His famous book, No Room for Crybabies, exposed the issues inside the Vikings ownership group and the fact that the team was for sale. 

Successful organizations require great leadership to win. Red McCombs from San Antonio later bought the Vikings from the Roger Headrick-led ownership group. Under McCombs, Purple Pride was his rallying cry, but after a few years of trying to get city and state authorities’ support on funding a new Vikings stadium, McCombs then tried to sell the team to Reggie Fowler.

Fowler was attempting to be the first Black owner of an NFL team. Warren, his legal counsel and a terrific attorney, worked with Fowler. They met in Arizona. An NFL veteran executive who was vice president of football administration and legal counsel with the St. Louis Rams 1997-2001, Warren won a Super Bowl with the Rams. He became senior vice president of business operations and general counsel with the Detroit Lions from 2001-03.

When the Fowler ownership deal failed, it was Warren who found Zygmunt Wilf, and that worked out. The Wilf brothers, New York-New Jersey developers, bought the Vikings from McCombs and then hired Warren as COO. Fowler was able to secure a minority ownership percentage with Warren.

Warren helped keep the potential Vikings sale alive by finding Zygi and Mark Wilf. The Vikings’ value as a franchise has exploded under Warren’s leadership as COO and the Wilf’s ownership. The Vikings’ team franchise value has risen from $782 million in 2007 to a staggering current $ 2.4 billion dollars according to Forbes.

Warren, with the support of Wilf’s ownership, was the driving force in getting U.S. Bank Stadium built, which led to Super Bowl LII and the team’s state-of-the-art new headquarters, TCO Center in Eagan. It is the finest I’ve seen in the NFL, and this is my 41st year covering the NFL and the Vikings.

Now Warren will bring his talent to the BIG, one of the strongest and most powerful in college sports. It has 14 universities and a partnership with FOX Sports that owns 50 percent the BIG TEN TV Network, the most successful and the highest revenue-generating sports network in amateur or college athletics today. All 14 BIG schools receive $55 million each from the BIG TV Network annually.

Warren’s departure is a powerful blow to the NFL and the Vikings. His great leadership will be missed. Warren is the highest-ranking Black executive in the NFL; he is in charge of 330 Vikings employees.

As Big Ten commissioner, Warren could earn between $7-10 million a year. He will have 56 employees and deal directly with 14 university presidents as commissioner. He will be the highest ranking Black executive in all of college sports.