Tony Petitti was introduced as the Big Ten’s new commissioner on Friday at a press conference in Chicago.
He takes over for Kevin Warren, who left the role to become president of the Chicago Bears on April 14. Petitti officially begins his tenure with the Big Ten on May 15.
Petitti brings a wealth of experience in the sports industry to the conference. He worked in senior executive roles at CBS Sports, ABC Sports, and MLB Network, and then served as Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer at Major League Baseball from 2014 to 2020.
He spent Friday’s press conference describing his viewpoints of both the Big Ten and collegiate athletics at large, and what the future could hold for both.
Petitti often declined to get into any specifics, as he’s still getting acclimated with everything in the Big Ten. But here are a few key things he discussed on Friday.
Realignment and expansion
The Big Ten will see a major change in the coming years, when USC and UCLA move over from the Pac-12 in 2024-25.
That fall will see similar changes around the country, not only in the Big Ten. Texas and Oklahoma will join the SEC, with Houston, Cincinnati, and UCF moving into the Big 12. And, certainly, other pieces could still shift as well.
One of Petitti’s top priorities, in this respect, is ensuring that USC and UCLA are smoothly integrated into the Big Ten. Geography, with those schools located so far from the rest of the conference, presents a lot of challenges in doing so.
“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. All of those things are really important,” Petitti said. “I think the absolute priority that I got through this process was the proper integration of USC and UCLA. We have to do that right, and there’s a lot of effort underway to do that.”
Petitti was also asked about other potential member schools the Big Ten could pursue, but he mostly declined to respond.
“My job is to make sure the conference is as strong in the present and future as it’s always been. I’ll just sort of leave it at that.”
The NIL landscape
One of the biggest topics in college sports today is athletes monetizing their name, image, and likeness, and where that money comes from.
As this is Petitti’s first role inside a college athletics organization, he does not bring direct experience or expertise on the matter. But, obviously, he’s spent enough time around the overall college sports ecosystem to know what’s happening.
Petitti acknowledged that it’s a good thing that athletes have this right with NIL. But he added support for a more cohesive system for it, as opposed to individual states crafting their own differing NIL legislations.
“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,” Petitti said. “State by state doesn’t seem to make sense for a system that competes the way that we do.”
Another issue in college sports, at large, that goes hand-in-hand with NIL is the entire amateurism model.
The transfer portal and the one-time transfer rule has significantly changed college sports, with student-athletes changing schools at a much higher rate than they did before the transfer legislation. And between that and the NIL money some athletes pull in — especially in more prominent sports — the entire system, based around student-athletes being amateurs and not professionals, has drawn increased attention.
Petitti brings an interesting perspective to that discussion, as someone with significant experience on the professional side of sports.
In addressing his perspective on this, he first reaffirmed that academics are at the core of the Big Ten’s mission, and he said that the public may not know everything that a true “employee model” would entail. Petitti went on to express understanding of what student-athletes want, while adding that those things are attainable without completely changing the existing system.
“I do think and recognize that, just like the prior generations of student-athletes, this generation will need different things and need different levels of support, they might need different benefits. And that’s already underway and happening,” Petitti said. “So you can embrace all of that change without having to really change the actual model. I think that’s the sweet spot of what we’re trying to do, is recognize what student-athletes need going forward, but also preserving the core of what these institutions think their mission is.”
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