The Big Ten will reportedly hire longtime media exec and former MLB COO Tony Petitti as its next commissioner, replacing Kevin Warren. ESPN’s Pete Thamel broke the news, and the Big Ten is expected to make an official announcement by the end of the week.
As the business of college sports radically changes—and conferences often find themselves competing with each other—Petitti would become the third straight Power Five commissioner to be hired without a traditional amateur athletics background, following George Kliavkoff (Pac-12) and Brett Yormark (Big 12). SEC commissioner Greg Sankey is one of the few current college athletics leaders to rise from within the system, having joined the conference in 2002.
But Petitti, a college baseball catcher, is far from a foreign name to collegiate insiders. Prior to joining MLB, he spent years in CBS’ programming department, handling properties including the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Before that, as an ABC VP of programming in 1995, he played a pivotal role in establishing college football’s Bowl Championship Series, navigating a complex web of relationships connecting media companies, bowl games and conferences along the way.
“Tony is the one who did most of the legwork,” former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer said in 2005. But even then, Petitti was aware that a playoff system would be better. “It’s the last great sporting event to be created,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
Outgoing Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren and his predecessor, Jim Delaney, oversaw significant leaps in conference revenue during their tenures. And following USC’s and UCLA’s departure from the Pac-12, a Petitti-led Big Ten is likely to have a major say in key college sports debates. Later this month, he’ll meet with conference leaders once again, this time to finalize an expanded playoff model set to make its debut in 2024-25.
Petitti is also certain to field questions about further expansion of his own conference. Will he seek to land more Pac-12 schools such as Stanford and Oregon? Can he lure Notre Dame into the fold? Then there are the issues created by the changes already made. How will schools manage coast-to-coast travel?
Internally, Petitti is likely prepared for the type of tension that emerges whenever a new face is installed atop an org chart, something that marked Warren’s tenure as well. But it remains to be seen how he will lead the conference through the NCAA’s many coming changes.
—Additional reporting by Daniel Libit.