The seventh commissioner of the Big Ten Conference is slated to take over the reins from Kevin Warren in a little over two weeks.
Before Tony Petitti’s tenure officially gets underway on May 15, the former MLB deputy commissioner and CBS Sports executive vice president addressed media members at a press conference in Rosemont, Illinois, on Friday. Petitti delved into his background as a student-athlete at Haverford College and discussed some of his goals for his new position before answering questions about hot-button topics in the world of college athletics, including NIL, College Football Playoff expansion and conference realignment.
And while the Big Ten already inked a seven-year, $7 billion media rights deal and added USC and UCLA to its member institutions under Warren’s leadership, Petitti said there’s plenty of work that needs to be done to make sure the transition goes smoothly on both fronts.
“In terms of the media deal, obviously Kevin and team did a remarkable job, it’s an incredible platform with the partners at FOX, CBS and NBC going forward. But that’s gonna require great execution, so to say that work is done I think is unfair,” Petitti said. “There’s a lot of work to do to make sure our partners are successful, that the members and the student-athletes are getting the benefit of those great media deals. I think expansion, also, I will say it’s really important to integrate USC and UCLA properly. So while they are gonna be members, there’s a ton of work that has to be done to make sure that we organize it properly, that student-athletes when they enter, the schedules make sense. So all of those things are very important.”
As for any innovations Petitti hopes to make as the new Big Ten commissioner, he said he’ll need more time on the job to begin planning anything specifically. However, he said CFP expansion and the success of women’s basketball as seen in last month’s NCAA Tournament will provide avenues for him to do so.
“I just think right now there’s some great opportunities in college sports. The College Football Playoff being one. It’s gonna expand and reimagine what the postseason is,” Petitti said. “I think what just happened this past March in the women’s basketball tournament, and Iowa was a huge part of that and Caitlin Clark, so I think that’s another huge opportunity. And I think when you see momentum some place, I think as a leader your responsibility is to really double down and focus on that, because there’s a great opportunity in the women’s basketball game right now to grow up.
“I think of those. In terms of other, bigger initiatives, I need more time on the ground to start thinking about things specifically. But so far I’ve been extremely impressed by the staff, how creative they are, how engaged they are. And I think under Kevin’s leadership there’s a lot of ideas welling up, and we’re gonna get after them as fast as we can.”
Petitti, who helped create the Bowl Championship Subdivision as an ABC executive in the 1990s, said he’s excited for the forthcoming playoff expansion in college football and doesn’t think it will water down the sport’s regular season.
“I was fortunate enough to be in the CFP meetings those past couple weeks really just to listen in as I make this transition. There’s just a tremendous amount of excitement about the expansion and what it’s gonna mean for the sport,” Petitti said. “I think the one thing about the BCS that was really great, and I think that will continue with the expanded playoff, is just the ability to make the regular season still very important and fill that excitement. You want to think about it as two halves, postseason and regular season, and it really is one connected half. And the goal of a great postseason is to make the regular season better. I feel really confident that the number that’s been chosen will do exactly that.”
Petitti expressed his support for student-athletes’ ability to earn money from NIL, but said he wants to see federal legislature put in place. Petitti cited the nationwide scale of both the Big Ten and college athletics as a whole and said having discrepancies in NIL policy from state to state “doesn’t seem to make sense.”
“I just think right now there’s some great opportunities in college sports. The College Football Playoff being one. It’s gonna expand and reimagine what the postseason is."– Tony Petitti on CFP expansion
“Student-athletes, it’s clear they have the right to monetize their name, image and likeness, and I think that’s a good thing. But I think going forward, it’s more about what that system’s going to be,” Petitti said. “And I think there’s a lot of words that come up and speaking with athletic directors and (senior woman administrators) and the (Council of Presidents and Chancellors) about transparency. But I will say one thing: college athletics is one national ecosystem. The Big Ten competes across multiple states, we compete nationally for championships. I think that system deserves a national solution and a national system.
“And so that’s why the collaboration is so important, that’s why federal legislation, there’s a lot about what you’ve been reading about over the last few months, because it’s the best solution. State-by-state doesn’t seem to make sense for a system that competes the way that we do.”
Asked about conference realignment, Petitti didn’t divulge any specific plans to expand the Big Ten any further in the immediate future, but said he’ll always aim to keep the conference as strong as ever. As for now, Petitti said getting USC and UCLA acclimated into the Big Ten is his chief concern.
“I think the absolute priority that I got through this process was the proper integration of USC and UCLA. Number one priority, we have to do that right and there’s a lot of effort underway to do that and I’m gonna spend a lot of time on that myself,” Petitti said. “The second thing I’ll say is I think as commissioner of the Big Ten, my job is to make sure the conference is as strong in the present and future as it’s always been.”