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With focus on B1G expansion, Kevin Warren continues call for NIL reform

Nakos updated headshotby:Pete Nakos07/26/22


INDIANAPOLIS — Kevin Warren had plenty to cover on Tuesday morning.

A year after filibustering and failing to provide any updates of substance, the Big Ten commissioner was ready to show off the groundwork for the conference’s future he’s been working on. USC and UCLA are officially coming in 2024. And Warren is in the middle of negotiating the Big Ten’s next television contract — which is not done — that could see the conference bring home north of $1 billion a year.

The third-year commissioner mentioned it all. And he made sure to take his crack at NIL. Following in the footsteps of Greg Sankey‘s comments on the state of NIL at last week’s SEC media days, Warren made sure to take aim at Capitol Hill.

With lawmakers in Washington, D.C., dealing with a conflict in Europe and mid-term elections months away, the Big Ten is calling on Capitol Hill to fix its NIL concerns. Forget the NCAA.

“I still strongly believe — I’m a big proponent of Name, Image and Likeness,” Warren said. “I am so grateful that many of our student-athletes have been blessed with the ability to monetize their name, image and likeness.

“That said, I am disappointed that we still have to operate with these various patchwork of laws from a state-level standpoint. We need federal legislation to help put in some guardrails to make it even more cleaner, to make sure these Name, Image and Likeness is not used as a recruiting inducement. So we have a lot of work to do, even from a political standpoint.”

The repeated calls for legislation have come from all across the country this summer. It started out in Big 12 country, making its way to Atlanta for SEC media days and has now reached podiums in Indianapolis. None of it is new. Warren joins a chorus of college athletics leaders blazing past the NCAA and placing the blame on lawmakers.

Sankey has taken his warnings a step further, threatening to enact league-wide guidelines. Warren is not there yet, though. He holds the largest footprint in college sports — New Jersey to California — the last thing anyone looking to repeal state NIL laws is looking for.

Yet, while talking NIL has turned into bashing recruiting inducements, Big Ten athletes have prospered. Per the marketplace Opendorse, the conference leads the country in NIL compensation. The SEC, the Big Ten’s chief competitor, clocks in at No. 5.

So, why the need for NIL reform? The rest of the Big Ten badly needs it on the recruiting trail.

While Ohio State sits at the top of On3’s Consensus 2023 Team Recruiting Ranking, the rest of the conference is fairly spaced out. Penn State is not far behind the Buckeyes at No. 7. But from there, Michigan State is 10 spots behind. Only three Big Ten teams are in the top 20; Cincinnati comes in before Michigan.

Recruiting inducements are far from the only NIL activity. But those deals draw the attention and the rage from fans and boosters. It’s believed Nico Iamaleava, the Tennessee quarterback commit, is the five-star recruit behind a potential $8 million NIL deal. While SEC schools now typically have two NIL collectives, not every Big Ten school has one. Northwestern is the lone holdout; Iowa’s Swarm Collective did not launch until this month.

Adding USC and UCLA to the conference is a major win. Having a presence in the top three media markets is unprecedented. The exposure for Big Ten athletes will reach new heights. Still, Warren has to field complaints and criticism from the rest of the league. Whether he wants to admit that or not is his decision.

The criticism of the lack of NIL federal leadership is not slowing down. And on the center podium at Big Ten media days Tuesday, Kevin Warren pulled out all the stops to please his conference.