INDIANAPOLIS — Big Ten Conference Commissioner Kevin Warren kicked off the league’s annual basketball media days with a press conference at Gainbridge Fieldhouse Thursday morning.
Warren announced that the conference had hired former Ohio State Athletics physician Dr. James Borchers to be its Chief Medical Officer and created the Lisa Byington Award.
Borchers is the league’s first-ever Chief Medical Officer. He will serve as a consultant to all 14 conference institutions and spearhead the Big Ten’s programs and initiatives in sports medicine.
Borchers will also provide guidance to the conference office and Warren, the league’s Council of Presidents and Chancellors, and the Big Ten Mental Health and Wellness Cabinet.
“It is an honor to be named Chief Medical Officer for the Big Ten Conference, which has long been a leader in collegiate athletics,” Borchers said via release. “This will be a tremendous opportunity to collaborate with the talented medical professionals within the conference and across all levels of college and professional sports as we continue to provide a best-in-class environment of health, safety, and wellness for our nearly 10,000 student-athletes.”
Borchers will also be a spokesperson for the Big Ten, communicating matters of health and safety to external stakeholders.
“The physical and mental well-being of our student-athletes is our top priority,” Warren said. “The addition of Dr. Borchers will further serve and protect the health and safety of our nearly 10,000 student-athletes. It will also ensure the conference is on the cutting edge of the latest medical advances and that we maintain strong interconnectivity to the best and brightest professionals in the medical community.”
Byington was a two-sport athlete at Northwestern, playing basketball and soccer. She is now the television play-by-play announcer for the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Big Ten Conference, alongside Byington, will choose one outstanding female student broadcaster from the Big Ten Network’s Student U family to give the award to. The winner of the award will have the chance to partake in a one-week professional immersion at the Big Ten Network’s Studios in Chicago. The Byington Award recipient will help develop and record segments for a broadcast reel during their week of career immersion.
“I’m a broadcaster and I make my living on saying words, and I’m a little speechless right now,” Byington said via release. “It starts with small beginnings, and it starts with people believing in you and giving you opportunities. This award means the world and I look forward to meeting with the recipient each year and getting to know her.”
Most Big Ten Student U games air on the conference’s streaming platform, BTN+. Big Ten Student U produces television broadcasts of games the professional staff at BTN doesn’t cover. Women’s basketball, early-season men’s basketball, field hockey, and soccer are all sports BTN Student U broadcasters typically work on.
“We are incredibly grateful for all that Lisa has given us at the Big Ten Conference and through the Big Ten Network,” Warren said. “She is a pioneer in the field of sports broadcasting and a shining example of what can be achieved through hard work, passion and dedication. Lisa has inspired countless young women and it is our hope this award will serve as a stepping stone for the next generation of talented broadcasters.”
Warren talks Big Ten Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives
In his opening statement, Warren noted that the Big Ten is currently searching for a vice president of women’s basketball. He added that the league will fill the position before the 2021-22 women’s basketball season begins.
Warren said that 52 percent of the Big Ten Network’s live programming this year pertained to women’s sports.
Warren also expressed his pleasure in seeing four of the Big Ten’s five head coaching vacancies in men’s and women’s basketball filled by people of color.
Five women and three Black men are now participants on the conference’s Council of Presidents and Chancellors, per Warren.
“You will rarely, if ever, hear me use the word minority,” Warren said. “I think we’re all majority and important together. I am also a big believer in diversity, equity, and inclusion. The more diverse we can become from a thought process, from gender, from sexual orientation, from religious beliefs, from color, the better we are.”
Warren discusses College Football Playoff Expansion
With talk of College Football Playoff expansion growing louder across the NCAA, rumors of a new 12-team postseason format have surfaced. According to the New York Times, College Football Playoff Expansion seems inevitable. CBS Sports, on the other hand, has reported that postseason expansion is “on shaky ground” because the NCAA’s various conferences have struggled to get on the same page.
Warren addressed playoff expansion Thursday, noting there are still a lot of hurdles to get over before a 12-team playoff becomes a reality.
“We’ve had some incredibly productive meetings over these last couple months,” Warren said. “We were in Dallas two weeks ago, in Chicago last week. We will be convening again in October to continually work through the issues, to figure out is the 12-team playoff the proper number, what’s the right timing, all the different issues we have to look at. How do we make sure our student-athletes still are afforded the opportunity to get their education taken care of, the calendar, winterization of our stadium, the media issues.”
“It’s really important that we keep our student-athletes at the center of our decision-making process,” Warren added. “Do what’s right by them, do what’s right by our fans, by college athletics, and make this decision in a methodical manner at the right time for the right reasons.”
Warren says basketball plays a role in conference realignment
In July, Texas and Oklahoma announced they’d be leaving the Big 12 Conference for the Southeastern Conference when their current media contracts expire in 2025.
The Big 12 responded to Texas and Oklahoma’s actions by agreeing to add Cincinnati, BYU, UCF, and Houston to the league’s lineup of teams no later than 2025.
With teams on the move and Power Five conferences expanding, Warren believes basketball should play a role in league realignment.
“Basketball plays an important role,” Warren said. “It’s a very popular sport . . . [It’s] a big component from a kind of conference structure, realignment standpoint.”