Before becoming Big Ten Conference commissioner in 2020, Kevin Warren was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona — over 1,800 miles from either Ann Arbor, Michigan, or Columbus.
Warren led a successful collegiate basketball career at the University of Pennsylvania and Grand Canyon University, where he was inducted into the latter’s Athletics Hall of Fame. Come late November every year as a student-athlete, Warren managed to allocate time to watch The Game between Michigan and Ohio State — he didn’t want to miss it.
“Huge rivalry,” Warren said. “I don’t think I’ve ever missed that game.”
Following his playing career, Warren joined the front offices of three NFL franchises, including the Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams and the Minnesota Vikings, where he served as the chief operating officer.
He spent over 15 years with the Vikings after arriving in Minnesota during 2005, where Warren said he and his family lived much deeper in Big Ten country. When the team hit the road, Warren said he built time around the showdown between Michigan and Ohio State into his itinerary every year.
“Even when we would be traveling on NFL road trips, I would always find a way to watch it,” Warren said. “It’s part of the fabric of college athletics and Big Ten athletics.”
Warren said he likened rivalry games to a “remember where you were when” event, noting Wolverines wide receiver Desmond Howard’s Heisman pose following a punt return touchdown in 1991 as an example.
His memories date further back than that. Warren said he remembers the days where The Game held postseason implications as he watched from the West Coast.
“I remember even as a kid just watching those games. I remember me growing up in Arizona. It looked so cold to watch those games later in the season,” Warren said. “But, that was for all the marbles then. There was no College Football Playoff; the winner went to the Rose Bowl.”
Unfortunately, Warren — and everyone else — missed The Game due to the pandemic in 2020. He shared the same disappointment many others felt upon the cancellation of the rivalry for the first time in over a century.
But, the next edition of Michigan and Ohio State comes with heightened vigor this season.
Both Michigan and Ohio State are near the top of the Big Ten East Division, owning more than five conference wins entering the stretch run.
Warren said he’s scheduled and booked for a trip to Ann Arbor when the rivalry renews Nov. 27. As it stands, this year’s edition of The Game may have impacts similar to what Warren experienced growing up: a trip to the conference championship game and even College Football Playoff.
“I can’t remember a year where I didn’t watch it. I’ll be excited to be there this year,” Warren said. “It should be another just incredible, incredible game.”