Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren reportedly a finalist to be Chicago Bears president

Could Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren be heading back to the NFL?

Warren is a “strong candidate” to be the next president/CEO of the Chicago Bears, ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported Thursday. Warren is a finalist for the position and has interviewed in person, according to Thamel. The search is expected to wrap up in a matter of weeks.

Before being named commissioner of the Big Ten in June 2019, Warren was a longtime executive for the Minnesota Vikings who worked his way up to chief operating officer by the end of his nearly 15-year tenure with the franchise. He also spent time working for the St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions, dating back to the late 1990s, and has more than 20 years of NFL experience.

Warren succeeded longtime Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and has had an eventful and often bumpy three years on the job. He officially took over for Delany in January 2020, just months ahead of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Warren faced widespread criticism for the way the conference handled the pandemic, including canceling the football season before reversing course only a month later.

Later on, the Big Ten added USC and UCLA and also landed a $7 billion television deal under Warren’s watch.

Minnesota Vikings chief operating officer Kevin Warren talks to reporters after being named Big Ten Conference Commissioner during a news conference Tuesday, June 4, 2019, in Rosemont, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Kevin Warren talks to reporters after being named Big Ten Conference commissioner during a news conference on June 4, 2019, in Rosemont, Illinois. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Why would Kevin Warren leave Big Ten for NFL?

So why would Warren mull a return to the NFL? Could he simply prefer life in professional sports after a tumultuous stint in college athletics?

Or are there other reasons? Thamel pointed to Warren’s contract and ongoing expansion efforts not materializing:

Warren has publicly pushed for more expansion for the Big Ten, but that has been met internally with resistance. And for the near future, the Big Ten will be a 16-team league that stretches from New Jersey to Los Angeles.

Warren began with the Big Ten in June 2019, becoming the first African-American commissioner of a Power 5 conference. He has not been given a contract extension since coming aboard, and the length of his deal and any talks of an upcoming deal have not been discussed publicly by the league.

The Bears’ search for a new president began after longtime president Ted Phillips announced his retirement in September.

The Big Ten, meanwhile, has two teams in the College Football Playoff: No. 2 Michigan and No. 4 Ohio State. Michigan is scheduled to face No. 3 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl and Ohio State will square off with No. 1 Georgia in the Peach Bowl.

Interestingly, Warren is not scheduled to attend either game on Saturday, per Thamel.

In a statement, the Big Ten said Warren "regularly receives unique opportunities and requests for his expertise from leaders across a variety of industries ranging from professional sports ownership groups to private equity firms."

"The commissioner utilizes each occurrence to listen, learn and assist every stakeholder in the most appropriate and effective manner," the statement said. "The commissioner remains focused on the Big Ten Conference, its 14 member institutions and over 10,000 student-athletes in both regular season and postseason play."