Top Candidates for Commissioners: Gene Smith and Jim Phillips are among the top choices to replace Kevin Warren

Kevin Warren Take off From Big Ten Commissioner to President/CEO of the Chicago Bears comes at a critical juncture—not just for the Big Ten, but for college athletics as a whole. Last year, the Big Ten announced that it would add USC and UCLA as full members starting in 2024, marking the latest move of a seismic realignment as the power conferences seek top dollar for media rights and long-term security. College athletics is also undergoing significant change with mass player transfers through the gate and many Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) dollars starting to resemble pro contracts.

Warren, 59, was appointed by the conference in 2020 after longtime Commissioner Jim Delaney retired from a position he had served since 1989. His departure means that a conference that has been incredibly stable throughout Delaney’s tenure will be in search of a leader. New for the second time in just under four years.

Warren negotiated a new seven-year media rights deal with CBS, Fox and NBC that’s worth about $1.2 billion a year, so the new commissioner won’t have to worry about that once he takes control. However, this is a high level job with high level requirements.

Who will follow Warren into the Big Ten? Here are some of the best options.

Jim Phillips, ACC Commissioner: Phillips has been named commissioner of the ACC in 2021, which, on the surface, makes him seem like an unlikely candidate. Don’t be so sure. Phillips was the club leader last time out until the Big Ten Chiefs turned left and chose Warren. The Big Ten is a better job with more resources and a more promising future, and it’s not stuck in the mud with an ESPN-friendly long-term media rights deal. In addition, Phillips has relationships with the Big Ten and the Midwest region. He was the athletic director at Northwestern from 2008-21 and at Northern Illinois from 2004-2008.

Burke Magnus, ESPN Television Director: Magnus is the President of Programming and Original Content for ESPN, where one of his duties centers on rights acquisition and scheduling. He’s worked alongside the network through several media rights deals, including a recent Big Ten contract that also includes CBS. Magnus has also worked with several professional leagues on cross-platform programming, which includes linear television, broadcast content, digital content, and social media strategies.

Mark Silverman, Director of Fox Television: Silverman is the President and Chief Operating Officer of Fox Sports. He is responsible for live events, studio programming, production, and marketing content across all Fox networks. One of these is the Big Ten Network, a part-owned outlet of the conference. Silverman was instrumental in integrating sports gambling into college football strategy. More and more states, including Ohio, have embraced gambling in recent years, and there will be more to come.

Gene Smith, Ohio State Athletic Director: Smith, 66, has been with the Buckeyes since 2005, but has held AD positions at various schools since 1986. His long tenure with Ohio State makes him a natural fit because he’s well-acquainted with the successes and failures of previous Conference of Commissioners. In addition, his experience with the growth of college football into a big business should be attractive for a conference that has been at the forefront of the transition to the major conference era.

Kerry Kinney, CEO of the Big Ten: Kenny is the Senior Vice President of TV, Media Analytics and Emerging Platforms for the Big Ten. He has been with the conference for 15 years and is a big part of the conference’s rise to prominence. He, like many other candidates, has been at the forefront of the Big Ten’s content and media strategy during the rapidly changing media landscape. Many of the Big Ten nominees are associated with television and media rights strategies. Kenny’s experience with these strategies, along with the conference’s familiarity with him as an employee, would make him an attractive option.

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