This coming Tuesday (Aug. 23)’s episode of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (premiering at 11 p.m. ET/PT on HBO, also on HBO Max) is going to be an interesting one on several fronts, including segments on the Senior Games (from Mary Carillo), jetpack usage (from Jon Frankel), and an update on boxer-turned-famed trainer Ann Wolfe. But Gumbel’s interview with Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren is perhaps particularly notable. HBO sent out some quotes from that Friday, and we covered Warren’s comments on player pay earlier in a discussion of Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud’s thoughts on the matter, but here’s the video clip of that discussion:
Another interesting element of Gumbel’s discussion with Warren that isn’t in that clip revolves around further Big Ten expansion. Here’s that back-and-forth from provided transcripts:
BRYANT GUMBEL: Right now, we are having a major realignment in collegiate sports.
KEVIN WARREN: And I think during that period there’s gonna be a lot of disruption. And that’s okay. We need to embrace it if we want to make sure that we continually build college athletics in a position where it’s here 100 and 200 years from now.
BRYANT GUMBEL: You’re at 16 teams now. Could you foresee 20?
KEVIN WARREN: I could. Yeah. I could see perpetual and future growth.
That fits with Thursday’s report from Brett McMurphy of The Action Network that the conference was “not done” expanding. But, as we noted in our coverage of that Thursday, further expansion carries the challenge of not reducing per-school payouts. Even if McMurphy’s report of an escalator clause that would take the total conference media rights from $7.7 billion over six years to $10 billion over that time frame is correct, that would only allow for the addition of four schools with no loss in per-school percentage, or five with a slight drop.
And the added schools would have to be pretty amazing, as this would be a $2.3 billion addition in media fees for only a few more schools, almost 30 percent of what the networks have signed on to pay for 16 schools (the current 14 plus incoming members USC and UCLA). So while “perpetual and future growth” may sound nice, the additions are going to have to be very valuable indeed for media companies in order to avoid diminishing per-school payouts. Still, it’s certainly interesting to have Warren on the record about that, and to have him indicating that the conference could keep expanding. And that drew a lot of reaction Friday.
Beyond that, another notable part of this discussion came from Gumbel asking Warren about what his father would think of where he is now:
BRYANT GUMBEL: As we sit here today, you are inarguably one of the most powerful executives in all of sports and inarguably, the most powerful African American sports executive of all time. What do we think Morrison F. Warren would think about that?
KEVIN WARREN: You’re gonna make me cry now. That’s really my standard; is my mom and my dad. I really hope that they would be not only proud what I’ve done but more so how I did it. I mean, I’m not supposed to be sitting here today. I should’ve died in 1974 as an 11-year-old boy. So count your blessings. Work hard. And things work out.
It certainly is significant that Warren is a minority executive at a level that has had very few minorities in the past. And it hasn’t been an easy road for him to date, especially around the league’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to reports of conference athletic directors pushing for Warren’s removal. But these giant media deals, by far the largest for a college conference to date, should help smooth things out for him (even if they come with some criticism for exiting ESPN). It will be interesting to see where he goes from here, perhaps especially around expansion.
[HBO on YouTube]