Tony Petitti hire makes it clear -- school's out for Big Ten (and everybody else)
Back in simpler times, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones caught plenty of flak for his tweet stating “Why should we go to class if we came here to play football? We ain’t come to play school.”
Jones was a visionary. The illusion that college football is tied to school continues to slip away with each passing year.
This is all business. And it starts at the top.
Collegiate commissioners were once exclusively people who had moved up within the world of college athletics. The Big Ten bucked that trend when it hired Kevin Warren in 2019. Warren’s work background was entirely in the legal field and NFL front offices.
Now the paradigm has tilted entirely. Warren was a sign of what was to come.
New Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti is the 3rd Power 5 commissioner with a background working in television or entertainment, joining Big 12 commissioner Brent Yormark and Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff.
We are proud to announce the seventh Commissioner in the history of the Big Ten Conference, Tony Petitti 👏 #B1G
🔗 https://t.co/SOUId4VXAW pic.twitter.com/4yFlKW3fDk
— Big Ten Conference (@bigten) April 12, 2023
Sports Betting in Big Ten Country
There is big news coming to the upcoming 2022-23 Big Ten football season (and NFL season). Ohio online sports betting and Maryland sports betting are on the way.
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For a conference that once permitted only 1 team to go to a bowl game each year due to “academics,” it’s yet another significant shift from those days of yore.
Whether you like it or not, this is the way forward. Sooner or later, players will be getting paid in a more direct form than NIL deals. And the Big Ten needed to hire someone capable of keeping the conference at the vanguard of college athletics.
On paper, Petitti appears to fit that bill.
Media rights are the future
College conferences originally aligned by some logical combination of geography, school size and shared values between those institutions. But those are no longer the ties that bind.
Moving forward, media rights are everything. You either have a good deal, or you don’t.
The Big Ten doesn’t just have a good deal. Thanks to Warren, it has the best deal imaginable — an estimated $1.2 billion per year that runs through 2030.
The Pac-12, formerly tied to the Big Ten’s hip for decades, is desperately gripping the railing in an attempt to avoid falling into the abyss.
There’s talk of putting games on The CW and adding San Diego State. (To be fair, the Aztecs seem every bit capable of moving up to Power 5 status as TCU and Utah once did. The CW, on the other hand …)
Petitti’s history suggests he’ll have the Big Ten positioned to win the next round of media rights negotiations, which are scheduled to take place before the SEC or ACC get another turn at the table.
Petitti helped shape the creation of the Bowl Championship Series when he worked at ABC Sports. While at CBS Sports, he played a major role in the network’s SEC football and NCAA Tournament deals. And apparently his work with the TV networks was impressive enough for Major League Baseball to hire him to oversee the creation of MLB Network.
So even though Petitti is technically a college sports outsider, he’s very well-versed in the business of putting sports on TV and the internet. In some instances, college sports specifically.
In this new era, that will be the most important aspect of being a conference commissioner.
From Big Ten to Big (How Many)?
We probably shouldn’t expect Petitti to mimic Yormark’s proclamation that “the Big 12 is open for business” when he opens up Big Ten football media days this summer.
But his hire is a sign that the Big Ten is sending the same message, if only implicitly.
Had the B1G gone the traditional route and hired ACC commissioner Jim Phillips for this role, it feels much more likely that Phillips would try tapping the brakes on further expansion. He certainly wouldn’t be hellbent on the destruction of the ACC, and earnestly joined the short-lived “Alliance” with Kliavkoff and the backstabbing Warren.
Petitti has no prior relationships that would inhibit the temptation to raze other conferences to strengthen the B1G. And given his background, university presidents are likely to listen when he says, “adding these schools will strengthen the product.”
Petitti is a new face who can put a more friendly countenance on Warren’s overt strategic aggression. A guy who spent half a lifetime in TV understands that presentation matters as much, if not more, than the actual message.
Perhaps the Pac-12 will survive through the 2020s. But it’s living on borrowed time without USC and UCLA. The Big Ten will be in position to add the prime cuts with the Big 12 gladly adding the leftovers.
When Warren decided to leave the Big Ten for the Chicago Bears, the matter of naming his successor created an obvious philosophical question. Would the B1G pick someone who wanted to stand pat at 16 schools and calm the waters, or someone likely to continue the conference’s West Coast push?
By choosing an outsider, the latter seems more likely.
School’s out in the Big Ten. But business is open.