Big Ten hires Tony Petitti as next commissioner

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The Big Ten has announced the hiring of former MLB and television executive Tony Petitti as the conference's next commissioner. He'll begin his tenure May 15.

Petitti emerged from a group of finalists who interviewed in the past 48 hours and was selected Tuesday after a vote of the league's presidents and chancellors, sources said.

"At this important and transformational time in collegiate athletics, it is truly my great honor to be chosen by the Council of Presidents and Chancellors as the commissioner of the Big Ten Conference," Petitti said. "I am energized to work alongside the best athletics directors, coaches, conference staff and board in the country as -- together -- we continue to elevate the academic and athletic experiences and resources for our 14, soon-to-be 16, world-class universities with nearly 10,000 incredible student-athletes. Thank you to the extraordinary people and places that have led me to this next challenge in my career. I am ready to get to work for the Big Ten Conference community."

Petitti brings a diverse background in sports and media. He is the former COO of Major League Baseball, where he succeeded current MLB commissioner Rob Manfred in that role in 2015.

His media experience comes from working for ABC Sports, CBS and the MLB Network. His work with college sports includes helping create the Bowl Championship Series back when he was with ABC and working with the NCAA tournament while at CBS. He also worked extensively with the NFL while at CBS.

Petitti also oversaw the day-to-day operations of CSTV, the network that would eventually become CBS Sports Network, for a four-month stint in 2008. He left soon after to become the head of the MLB Network, charting his path to become one of MLB's top executives.

Petitti's hiring continues the trend of nontraditional hires from outside the college sports space in the collegiate commissioner set, including in the Pac-12 (George Kliavkoff), Big Ten (Kevin Warren) and Big 12 (Brett Yormark). Only the ACC's hire of Jim Phillips in December 2020 from his job as the athletic director at Northwestern would be considered a conventional recent hire of a high-profile commissioner.

Petitti is currently the co-CEO of the 33rd Team, a football think tank and nascent media organization founded by former NFL executive and current ESPN analyst Mike Tannenbaum. He has worked for the 33rd Team for the past year.

Petitti takes over the Big Ten at a time when the league is seeking stability and a consensus builder. Warren's tenure was uneven, as he had difficulty with the setup of college athletics as a clunky and nonlinear business where commissioners mostly lack the unilateral power of professional commissioners.

Warren left suddenly in January with multiple years left on his contract to become the president of the Chicago Bears. His tenure ends Friday, and he'll start with the Bears on Monday.

Petitti, a Haverford College (1983) and Harvard Law School (1986) graduate, rises immediately into one of the most powerful roles in college sports during a tenuous time in college athletics, as the Big Ten and SEC have television deals that are expected to outpace the other prominent leagues by $30 million annually once those deals come into place in the coming seasons.

"The Big Ten Conference is in an extraordinary position of strength. Tony's capabilities to navigate the complexities of changing marketplace environments, history as a collaborative leader, and passion for academics and collegiate athletics made him the right leader, at the right time, for the Big Ten Conference," said University of Maryland president Darryll Pines.