Korn Ferry Lands New Commissioner for the Big Ten Conference

Kevin Warren, chief operating officer for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, will join the conference in September and transition alongside outgoing commissioner Jim Delany. We’ve got the backstory here.

June 6, 2019 – Korn Ferry has placed Kevin Warren, chief operating officer of professional football’s Minnesota Vikings, as commissioner of the Big Ten Conference. He will start on Sept. 16 to take advantage of an opportunity to transition as the new season begins alongside commissioner Jim Delany, who will officially step down on Jan. 1 following a 30-year career with the conference. The search was led by Jed Hughes, Korn Ferry’s vice chairman and global sports sector leader. Mr. Warren is the 1st African-American commissioner of a Power 5 conference.

“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, president of Indiana University and chair of the executive search committee. “Over a remarkable and pioneering career, he has developed a reputation among his peers and colleagues as an individual of enormous character, integrity, knowledge and passion, who has dedicated the majority of his professional career to the empowerment of young people and the positive impact athletics can have on improving lives and our society.”

Coming Soon! Don’t Miss It

“After an extensive national search that brought forth a wonderful group of highly qualified candidates, we were thrilled to recruit Kevin Warren to be our next commissioner,” said Michael V. Drake, president of Ohio State University and a member of the executive search committee. “We were all impressed with Kevin’s broad experience, his extraordinary level of commitment and his vision for our collective future.”

“My colleagues and I all look forward to working closely with him to support and advance the Big Ten. This is an important moment for our conference and for intercollegiate athletics,” he said. “Kevin is the right person at the right time to lead us forward.”

Mr. Warren has been with the Vikings since 2005. He is the highest-ranking African-American executive working on the business side for a team in the NFL and is the first African-American chief operating officer in the league’s history. His extensive experience in all facets of the Vikings organization provided a solid foundation for him to lead the business operations. Since being promoted to COO, Mr. Warren played a critical role in all business, financial, legal and operational aspects related to U.S. Bank Stadium and was involved in the design, construction, business, legal and operational components of the new stadium. He also played a key role in the design, development and planning of Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, the Vikings headquarters in Eagan, MN, in addition to the ancillary real estate development of Viking Lakes.


Sports and Entertainment Expansion Elevating Search Business

Over the last 25 years, the sports sector has grown into a formidable global industry. Historically, professional sports teams operated on a relatively modest level, with league officials, team owners, managers, and coaches surrounding themselves with people they knew and trusted from their own small worlds. College sports teams relied on in-house search committees and word-of-mouth recommendations. Familiarity, however, can also breed contempt.

Teams with huge followings like the Dallas Cowboys, Real Madrid and Manchester United have seen their valuations soar into the billions of dollars. That’s attracted search firms – big time. Seasoned recruiters now provide strategic planning advice, in addition to talent identification services, with the capability of applying their findings to speed along the process in the hunt for talent. Here’s some further reading from Hunt Scanlon Media.


Mr. Warren previously worked for the international law firm of Greenberg Traurig from 2003 to 2005, playing a critical leadership role with the Wilf Ownership Group deal team during the acquisition of the Minnesota Vikings. Additionally, he spent two seasons (2001 to 2003) with the Detroit Lions as senior vice president of business operations and general counsel and four seasons (1997 to 2001) with the St. Louis Rams as vice president of football administration, and vice president of player programs and legal counsel. Mr. Warren was an integral part of the Rams organization when they won the Super Bowl over the Tennessee Titans in 2000.

“The opportunity is an incredible and unique blend of my lifelong passion, commitment and experience,” said Mr. Warren. “Positively impacting the lives of young adults has always been part of the fabric of my family and I will work tirelessly with our member schools to ensure that we are providing every possible best in class resource to enhance our students’ educational and athletic experience, as well as empower them for success upon graduation. Jim Delany, our presidents, chancellors, athletic administrators and coaches have created an extremely strong culture and foundation from which to build.”

Related: Executive Recruiters Continue Their Expansion into the Sports Industry

Mr. Delaney said he was grateful for his long run as commissioner. “It’s been an amazing opportunity to serve and lead these preeminent institutions, presidents, administrators, coaches and students,” he said. “It is incredibly fulfilling to support the hundreds of thousands of young men and women who have been afforded an opportunity to obtain best-in-class educations as a result of the invaluable, one-of-a-kind lessons learned through the unique combination of athletic and classroom competition.”


College Sports Solutions Recruits Commissioner for Big Sky Conference
Executive recruitment firm College Sports Solutions placed Tom Wistrcill as the seventh commissioner of the Big Sky Conference, a Division I collegiate athletic league in the western U.S. The previous commissioner, Andrea Williams, moved on this summer to become chief operating officer of the College Football Playoffs.


Founded in 1895, the Big Ten Conference, is considered the oldest Division I sports conference. Based in Rosemont, IL, the conference actually consists of 14 educational institutions. The broad-based programs of the schools provide over $200 million in direct financial support to more than 9,500 students for more than 11,000 participation opportunities on 350 teams in 42 different sports.

The Big Ten sponsors 28 official conference sports, 14 for men and 14 for women, including the addition of men’s ice hockey and men’s and women’s lacrosse since 2013. Its member schools include: Indiana University, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Rutgers University, University of Illinois, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota, University of Nebraska, Northwestern University, Purdue University and University of Wisconsin.

Prominent Searches

Korn Ferry’s sports practice is led by Mr. Hughes, an expert in identifying, assessing, and developing leaders for sports organizations. His relationships within sports and intercollegiate athletics are extensive, having spent 20 years coaching in professional and intercollegiate football and working for five Hall of Fame coaches. Jason Belzer of Forbes has called Mr. Hughes the most valuable connector of the sports industry.

Related: Recruiters Offer Sports Clients an Expanding Talent Platform

The firm’s sports practice has conducted a number of prominent searches in the field, including commissioner for the NFL. Korn Ferry’s other work across the league includes placing Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider. The firm has also been active filling head coaching and general manger roles for both professional and collegiate sports teams – a large, competitive and expanding subsector for recruiters specializing in the sports talent field.

Mr. Hughes’ highest profile placements include: former New York Jets general manager John Idzik; John Dorsey, general manager of the Cleveland Browns; Mark Murphy, CEO of the Green Bay Packers; Larry Scott, commissioner of the Pac-12; Bob Bowlsby, commissioner of the Big 12; and Dave Brandon and Jim Harbaugh, the athletic director and the head football coach of the Michigan Wolverines, respectively. He has also conducted searches for the USOC, LPGA, PGA of America, Seattle Seahawks, Arsenal Football Club, Liverpool Football Club, Ohio State, ATP Tour and Women’s Tennis Association, among others.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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