Prejudice & Pride

By Ramzy Nasrallah on June 2, 2021 at 1:15 pm
Commissioner Kevin Warren takes questions after canceling the Michigan Wolverines and Rutgers Scarlet Knights first round Big Ten tournament game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana due to the Coronavirus Pandemic Thursday, March 12, 2020. Michigan
© Kirthmon F. Dozier | Detroit Free Press

Kevin Warren had gotten quite used to only working for billionaires.

Prior to following Jim Delany around for 18 months to meet everyone and shake their hands - shout out handshakes - you're almost back! - he worked for the Wilfs in the Twin Cities. Prior to that, it was the Fords in Detroit.

He reported to NFL families in possession of wealth that seems immeasurable to nearly every person who has ever inhabited this planet. NFL organizations also service NFL clientele, better known as corporations. Legally but not technically people. Similarly immeasurable wealth.

Individual season ticket holders (I felt like a monarch back when I lived this life) are only a notch above the peasantry, which is most of us. Ill-fitting jerseys, iller-fitting shorts and occasional game attendees in possession of immeasurable enthusiasm for the game that occupies our hearts and disposable income.

Corporate slugs like Warren ARE selective listeners who dream in PowerPoint and communicate in a manner that makes little sense on the street, let alone outside of a board room.

When Warren took in his year-and-a-half onboarding he was immersed primarily in late stage Delany's B1G worldview. Jimmy took a seasoned operations officer versed in both the business and legal aspects of the professional sports world and showed him what it's like to captain his ship, whose basketball syndication rights were still owned by Raycom when he took the helm.

His customers were the university presidents; this was unchanged from Delany's debut 30 years earlier. His clientele were the corporate partners - just like with the Vikings and Lions. Operations were humming, which an Ops guy like Warren had to appreciate. Delany was never much of a mingler beyond specific circles so it's unlikely the new guy's handshakes extended beyond the people he couldn't afford to piss off.

Delany's successor took it all in. He had two decades of directly reporting to generationally wealthy bosses, and when you spend that much time in that orbit, it shapes who you are and how you present yourself. That orbit, fellow peasants, is a grind.

Nights, weekends, vacations, illnesses and family time are only shaded as busy on your calendar in that galaxy because you're always available. Those roles rarely play silly little work/life balance games because there would be 300 qualified-or-superior resumés raining into the building approximately four seconds after the vacancy is posed.

Dec 19, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Big 10 Conference commissioner Kevin Warren introduces the Ohio State Buckeyes after their victory over the Northwestern Wildcats at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
B1G commissioner Kevin Warren adulates conference champions for the season he attempted to cancel. © Aaron Doster USAT Sports

It's kind of a hostage situation, except they literally have millionaire tax hassles to wrestle with as compensation. The level of corporate stewardship Warren attained and brought to Delany's vacant chair requires special psychological wiring. People who breach this career elevation are, well - let's just say it - viciously awkward socially. That orbit shapes who they are at a molecular level.

Corporate slugs like Warren become selective listeners who dream in PowerPoint and communicate in a manner that makes little sense on the street, let alone right outside of a board room. Their spouses know what they signed up for when this all began, and they're cool with the opulent, sterile and largely vacant existence of One Percenting.

They are willfully taken captive by 82-hour work weeks, because whatever exists outside of work just isn't as interesting. They are not like us, humble blog reader. They don't want or need your input, because they earned their way out of having to listen to anyone with only one comma in their net worth a long time ago.

So what do you get when you take an operations guy who spent two decades reporting to wealthiest people in the world and put him on camera? You get someone who should never address the peasantry failing out loud on state television.

A more hostile network might have asked so Kevin what changed over the past six days that made you so goddamn wrong less than a week later or hey what does your conference know that no one else does, and shouldn't you be sharing it in uncoded language? Instead, Dave Revsine graciously gave the big boss multiple takes to provide an answer humans could consume and understand. And he bombed every single one.

As intelligent, accomplished and decorated Warren is he does not possess the unique skill to excel in a role like the one he has. His brain is made of two left-brain hemispheres while he holds a job that requires at least a serviceable chunk from the right. A brain like his is perfectly suited for operations and legal mastery - for a person who finds work more interesting than not-work.

In normal cruising altitude - which is what a B1G commissioner faces 95% of the time - it's passable to have an intelligent operations pro with decades of grooming occupying the chair. But in a crisis where decisions require more than just spreadsheets, Warren is a lousy fit.

And fit matters at least as much as qualifications. Drop a lion in the middle of the ocean and a medium-sized tuna will easily outlast it. Drop that tuna in the Sahara and the lion fares much better.

It's easy to bury the conference for how it mishandled 2020, from kicking the football can down the road all summer until August before pulling the fire alarm with no contingencies in place, to doing the about-face it pulled the following month when it implemented a schedule with no margin for error, which is the reason Ohio State's players aren't receiving Gold Pants this year for the first time in a decade.

And it's frustrating to not get a single apology or any sort of recourse for how any of it was messaged. What we now know is that Warren thought the players' families negative response to his decision making last fall was, literally, fake news.

He refused to believe in the authenticity of the peasantry. He knew his customers. He still has no idea who his stakeholders are, and based on what we know about his wiring - he won't lose any sleep over it.

This is what happens when people from beyond your orbit show up in yours. They're aliens, and aliens can't be real. If you hadn't arrived at how bad of a fit this job is for Warren, that should clinch it. Fortunately that 2020 crisis is now largely behind us, so Warren can focus his energy on operations and sterile figureheading atop the conference for what's hopefully the rest of his tenure.

And if everything goes according to plan, you'll rarely think about who the B1G commissioner is, because he'll be comfortably behind the scenes. And that's exactly where Ops guys want to be.

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