Skull Session: Tony Petitti is Cleaning Up Kevin Warren's Mess, FanDuel Releases Updated Heisman Odds and Gene Smith and Urban Meyer Honor "Ohio Legend" Jim Brown

By Chase Brown on May 22, 2023 at 5:00 am
Tony Petitti
Twitter / @BigTen

Welcome to the Skull Session.

The Ohio State men's tennis team fell short of a national championship in 2023. Head coach Ty Tucker had some words for that: “I'm not disappointed at all. People don't know how hard it is to get here." He later added: “We're in a good spot, and we're gonna get a little better this summer, and we hope to be back.”

FIFY you, coach: "We hope to will be back."

Let's have a good Monday, shall we?

 KEVIN! Tony Petitti has been busy with several tasks since he took over as Big Ten commissioner: Integrating USC and UCLA into the conference for the 2024-25 season, exploring the new media deal for the 12-team College Football Playoff and tackling the tricky mistress that is name, image and likeness.

However, as ESPN's Pete Thamel reported on Sunday, the most significant task Petitti has faced is – and these are my own words, not Thamel's – cleaning up a mess left behind by former commissioner Kevin Warren after he stepped down to become president and CEO of the Chicago Bears.

From Thamel's article:

Petitti [has] prioritized the official completion of the massive television contract worth more than $7 billion negotiated by his predecessor, Kevin Warren. This issue may have seemed like a mere formality, but complications to the much-celebrated deal arose soon after he accepted the job.

Nearly three months before the season kicks off and those TV deals begin, the Big Ten does not have completed longform contracts, which include the fine print details. Instead, Petitti is engaged in significant "horse trading," according to multiple sources, to get the NBC primetime deal finished and figure out what the network calls "outstanding issues" in order to uphold as much value as possible.

"These deals aren't done, and they aren't what they were represented to be from the standpoint of the NBC deal and the availability of all members to participate in November games in primetime," said an industry source.

As a result, athletic directors are unhappy that money will disappear from their bottom lines, while television executives and football coaches are frustrated about the lack of communication and transparency that started when the Big Ten announced their media partnership with FOX, CBS and NBC last August.

But with whom are the athletic directors unhappy and the executives and football coaches frustrated? That would be Petitti's predecessor. Congratulations, Kevin Warren Detractors, you have company.

Here are some examples of why those three parties, among others, are feeling some type of way about Warren:

They are going to have to pay back nearly $40 million to Fox because, according to sources, Warren delivered NBC the Big Ten football title game in 2026 without the full authority to do so. This all has unfolded under the complicated backdrop of the Big Ten conference not actually controlling the rights to the inventory of this latest deal – the Big Ten Network does, which is majority owned by Fox. (More on that below.)

They are going to have to pay $25 million total for a deal to pay Fox back for lost 2020 football game inventory. This came after an arrangement between Fox and the conference that was unable to muster the lost revenue from the COVID-19 season.

There's tens of millions of dollars of value of the NBC primetime deal in flux, as Petitti has been racing to ensure it keeps as much of its original value as possible. Historically in the Big Ten, after the first weekend in November, schools were not required to play night games for myriad reasons -- health, recovery and campus logistics among them. These were known in league circles as "tolerances," and prior television contracts accounted for them.

Multiple sources told ESPN there's been pushback from a number of schools, including Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, to play those late-November night games under the new contract. That leaves Petitti to figure out how to uphold a deal for hundreds of millions of dollars for primetime games without cooperation from some of the league's marquee teams for part of the regular season's most important month.

Athletic departments and coaches around the Big Ten say they were surprised November night games would be part of the deal. They weren't asked for permission to play them prior to the deal or informed of the change ahead of the deal, according to sources. At the same time, NBC wasn't aware until well after the initial contract was signed this summer that these big-brand schools had historic tolerances that were part of the prior television arrangements and would resist being available.

Not great, Bob!

Thamel's article, which includes additional reporting from Jeff Borzello, has much more information and narrative surrounding Warren's departure from and Petitti's arrival to the Big Ten. That said, I recommend heading over to the worldwide leader in sports for the finer details of this news.

Still, a summary of the article is this: Kevin Warren's tenure as Big Ten commissioner was stained with incompetence. With Warren off to lead the Bears, the conference's new leadership and its 14 (soon to be 16) member schools are left to face the consequences, which blows.

 NEVER TELL ME THE ODDS. Over the weekend, FanDuel Sportsbook updated its Heisman Trophy odds for the 2023 college football season. While USC quarterback Caleb Williams, the 2022 award winner, has the best odds at +500 to win, Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord and wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. were featured in the top 15.

+500 Caleb Williams QB USC
+1200 Michael Penix Jr. QB Washington
+1200 Bo Nix QB Oregon
+1200 Jordan Travis QB  Florida State
+1500 Jayden Daniels QB LSU
+1500 Sam Hartman QB Notre Dame
+1500 Drake Maye QB North Carolina
+2000 Carson Beck QB Georgia
+2000 Quinn Ewers QB Texas
+2000 Kyle McCord QB Ohio State
+3000 Marvin Harrison Jr. WR Ohio State
+3000 Blake Corum RB Michigan

Refer to the chart, and you will notice that the Heisman has become exclusively a quarterback award, which is a shame. However, that's not a new revelation. The Heisman finalists in 2022 were Williams, C.J. Stroud, TCU's Max Duggan and Georgia's Stetson Bennett. The early odds for 2023 indicate Williams and a different trio of quarterbacks will be in New York City in December. McCord – or Devin Brown, for that matter – will look to be one of them.

According to FanDuel's odds (and non-smooth-brained humans who watched college football last season), Harrison has the best chance of any non-quarterback to attend the Heisman ceremony after he was named a unanimous All-American and Biletnikoff finalist in 2022. Harrison is featured at +3000 odds to win the Heisman in 2023, tied for the 14th-best odds with Michigan running back Blake Corum.

Former Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith is the most recent player to break through the quarterback barrier and win the Heisman. Before Smith, former Alabama running back Derrick Henry won in 2015 and another Crimson Tide ball carrier, Mark Ingram II, won in 2009. USC running back Reggie Bush won in 2005, but remember that did not count because the NCAA vacated it. Very cool of them to do that. Very cool.

While the two very cools mentioned above are obviously sarcasm, this one is not: Harrison winning the Heisman in 2023 would be very cool. I hope he does that.

 REMEMBERING JIM BROWN. Ohio legend Jim Brown died on Friday at 87. After his passing, several prominent members of the Ohio State community expressed their sadness and grief over the loss. Among them were athletic director Gene Smith, a Cleveland native, and former football head coach Urban Meyer, who hails from Ashtabula, Ohio.

Knowing that Smith and Meyer spent their respective childhoods (and more) in northeast Ohio, one can infer that both idolized the former Cleveland Browns running back and first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer in their youth. Heck, as someone born in Columbus and much later than Smith and Meyer, I idolized him.

Jim Brown played nine seasons in the NFL and appeared in 118 games for the Cleveland Browns. In those contests, the 6-foot-2, 232-pound bruiser recorded 2,359 carries, an NFL-record 12,312 yards, 5.2 YPC, 104.3 YPG and 106 touchdowns. He also hauled in 262 passes for an additional 2,499 yards and 20 scores.

Brown was and is the greatest running back of all time.

And, more importantly, he was a good man.

He will be missed.

 OLYMPIC VILLAGE. Ohio State women's basketball had one of its best seasons ever in 2022-23, collecting a 28-8 record, a second-place finish at the Big Ten Tournament (to Caitlin Clark and Iowa) and the program's first Elite Eight appearance in 30 years. And Buckeye Nation was with the team every step of the way.

1 South Carolina 12,942
2 Iowa 11,143
3 Iowa State 10,323
4 UConn 10,255
5 Louisville 8,779
6 LSU 8,733
7 Tennessee 8,150
8 Indiana 8,104
9 Arizona 7,679
10 Maryland 7,132
11 Ohio State 5,955

Last week, the NCAA released attendance data for the 2022-23 season, including metrics for the highest average attendance among all Division I programs. The usual suspects were at the top of the list: South Carolina, Iowa, Iowa State, UConn, Louisville and national champion LSU. But on the cusp of the top 10 was Ohio State, a program that made a lot of noise last winter and plans to stick around for a long time.

Ohio State returns All-Big Ten honorees Jacy Sheldon, Taylor Thierry and Cotie McMahon, who won the 2023 Big Ten Freshman of the Year award, as starters next season. The Buckeyes added last season's ACC Defensive Player of the Year Celeste Taylor (11.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.5 APG) from Duke and Taiyier Parks (8.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 57.5% FG) from Michigan State in the transfer portal to round out the starting five.

That assortment of talent, combined with role players such as Rikki Harris, Emma Schumate, Eboni Walker and Rebeka Mikulasikova, should make head coach Kevin McGuff's squad a Final Four contender for the second consecutive year. That means there will likely be more butts in seats at the Schottenstein Center this winter to see the Ohio State women's team embark on another successful regular season before it pushes for postseason trophies.

One more note: shoutout to Ohio State baseball for its sweep of Michigan over the weekend. The Buckeyes won nine consecutive games to end the 2023 regular season with a 31-25 record and a 9-15 mark in conference competition.

 SONG OF THE DAY. "Unchained Melody" by Elvis Presley.

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