Illustration of football team and doctors in a huddle
Adam Neuman: The First Chief of Staff in Big Ten Conference History
When Big Ten Conference Commissioner Kevin Warren presented Adam Neuman LPS’17, L’18 with an opportunity to serve as his Chief of Staff, there was no hesitation.

“It wasn’t one of those, ‘maybe, I have to think about it’ situations, it was a yes.” Neuman, who had previously worked as a legal intern for NFL’s Minnesota Vikings while Warren was COO, immediately recognized the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for what it was. “It became clear that [Commissioner Warren] wanted to develop a positive and impactful movement. It wasn’t going to be just about sports, but about what we can do with the platform of sports. We are trying to create a positive movement of leadership in sports where academics, athletics and social responsibility meet the challenges of our time.”

The 30-year-old Chief of Staff is responsible for the internal and external operations of the Big Ten Conference, which includes 14 major universities, spanning over eleven states and nearly ten thousand student-athletes. Neuman is a liaison to its various departments, including finance, human resources, legal, and student-athlete initiatives.

In January 2020, immediately following his hiring, Neuman got to work on three of Commissioner Warren’s initial initiatives for the Big Ten: financial literacy, voter registration, and mental health and wellness.

And then, well, the rest of 2020 happened.

By March, epidemiological concerns about a novel coronavirus had blossomed into a global pandemic. Neuman was tasked with, in tandem with Commissioner Warren and the Council for Presidents and Chancellors from the 14 member institutions, creating a conference-wide task force for emerging infectious diseases. The task force was formed to provide counsel and sound medical advice to ensure the health, safety and wellness of the Big Ten’s students, coaches, administrators and fans. “[P]eople’s lives are at stake,” Neuman said. “We want to make sure that we are providing holistic help and education on all levels. Not just because they are student-athletes but because of the totality of who they are, as human beings.

In May, social justice issues re-captured national attention following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. As citizens spoke out against police brutality across the country throughout the summer, alongside Commissioner Warren, Neuman embraced a critical role in a conference-wide effort to combat racism. Uniting student-athletes, coaches, athletic directors, chancellors, and presidents, the coalition is currently working with existing diversity councils on the various campuses to inform students about their rights to free speech and peaceful protest as they seek to bring about meaningful change.

And then, in September, when the task force of emerging infectious diseases and the medical subcommittee of the Return to Competition Taskforce established stringent medical protocols be met in order for close contact sports practice and competition to resume, Neuman played an important role in the negotiations with Quidel Corporation and Biodesix, Inc. to implement a comprehensive testing program among the 14 member institutions.

Throughout it all, Neuman has remained steadfast and confident, thanks to the lessons he learned as a student at Penn. Specifically, he credits Professor Leo Katz, the Frank Carano Professor of Law, and Katz’s Contract Law course, with teaching him the importance of opening one’s mind and seeing all possible outcomes of a case. “[Professor Katz] encouraged me and my fellow classmates in law school to really think things through and to not take things for granted, or to make assumptions. That type of mentality was most critical in all the classes I took, and for my position at the Big Ten now. I’m very grateful to have had experience that helps me on a daily basis.”

And, while his university days — as a student anyway — are over, Neuman continues to be a receptive vessel to the mentors he meets and the lessons they impart. He thoughtfully recalls meeting University of Minnesota Head Football Coach PJ Fleck in the weeks before the pandemic.

“Coach Fleck told us about his idea of ‘FAMILY,’ F-A-M-I-L-Y, and it stood for ‘forget about me, I love you.’ I thought that it was a very powerful message,” Neuman said. “It’s about putting people first, and not your own self-interests. That is something that definitely exists at the Big Ten, that continues to be nurtured, and it is something that I look for in all of my professional relationships. Putting people first.”