Kevin Warren wasn’t exactly the most popular conference commissioner in his time at the helm of the Big Ten.
Sure, Warren added USC and UCLA to the fold and helped broker a massive new TV deal.
But Warren was also seen as someone who would immediately bounce for NFL when given the chance and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic left much to be desired.
That first concern was proven true when Warren left to become the president and CEO of the Chicago Bears in January. The Big Ten then hired former MLB CEO Tony Petiti to fill the spot, and it appears Warren left quite the mess for Petiti to clean up.
ESPN’s Pete Thamel reports that Petiti was forced to make a number of on-the-fly changes in order to make up for mistakes by Warren.
Most notably, Warren did not tie up loose ends regarding the conference’s new television deals.
“These deals aren’t done, and they aren’t what they were represented to be from the standpoint of the NBC deal and the availability of all members to participate in November games in primetime,” said an industry source. – via ESPN
“Interviews with nearly a dozen sources in and around the Big Ten and the college sports industry paint a picture of Petitti sprinting to navigate details left unresolved from his predecessor,” Thamel wrote. “As a result, there’s a trail of unhappy athletic directors seeing money disappearing from their bottom line, frustrated television executives and big-name coaches irked about the lack of transparency in details that weren’t communicated to them.”
Thamel then underlined three major points that Warren left Petiti and Big Ten schools to deal with.
- They are going to have to pay back nearly $40 million to Fox because, according to sources, Warren delivered NBC the Big Ten football title game in 2026 without the full authority to do so. This all has unfolded under the complicated backdrop of the Big Ten conference not actually controlling the rights to the inventory of this latest deal — the Big Ten Network does, which is majority owned by Fox. (More on that below.)
- They are going to have to pay $25 million total for a deal to pay Fox back for lost 2020 football game inventory. This came after an arrangement between Fox and the conference that was unable to muster the lost revenue from the COVID-19 season.
- There’s tens of millions of dollars of value of the NBC primetime deal in flux, as Petitti has been racing to ensure it keeps as much of its original value as possible. Historically in the Big Ten, after the first weekend in November, schools were not required to play night games for myriad reasons — health, recovery and campus logistics among them. These were known in league circles as “tolerances,” and prior television contracts accounted for them.
Warren’s reputation was always a bit dicey among those around the Big Ten. And this latest report isn’t going to do much to help repair it.