Integrating USC, UCLA is top priority for new Big Ten commissioner

The longtime Major League Baseball and TV executive Tony Petitti was introduced as the league’s seventh commissioner on Friday, just over two weeks after he was hired to replace Kevin Warren. Warren became president and CEO of the Bears.

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Tony Petitti speaks to the media as he’s introduced as the new commissioner of the Big Ten.

Tony Petitti speaks to the media as he’s introduced as the new commissioner of the Big Ten.

David Banks/AP

New Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti said he’s ready to lead a conference that’s on solid footing but insisted there are still hurdles to clear.

The most immediate task, he said, is ensuring a smooth transition when Southern California and UCLA arrive next year.

“There’s a ton of work that has to be done to make sure that we organize it properly,” he said.

Beyond that, he said simply: “As commissioner of the Big Ten, my job is to make sure the conference is as strong in the future as it’s always been. And I’ll just leave it at that.”

The longtime Major League Baseball and TV executive was introduced as the Big Ten’s seventh commissioner on Friday, just over two weeks after he was hired to replace Kevin Warren. Warren became president and CEO of the Bears.

He will lead a conference that in the past year became the first to expand its footprint from coast to coast. The Big Ten also reaped a huge financial windfall, landing about $7 billion in media rights deals through 2030 with Fox, CBS and NBC to share the rights to football and basketball games.

Petitti called the deals an “incredible platform” that’ll “require great execution.”

“There’s a lot of work to do, to make sure our partners are successful, that the the student-athletes are getting the benefit (of the) great media deals,” he said.

Aside from bringing UCLA and USC into the Big Ten fold when they arrive in August 2024, Petitti is arriving into a rapidly changing college sports landscape.

He called for a “national solution” and “federal regulation” of the name, image and likeness (or NIL) arms race that began in June 2021. Lawmakers in some states are looking for schools and their fundraising arms to be directly involved in securing and paying for their athletes’ NIL deals while protecting their athletic departments from NCAA sanctions.

“College athletics is one national ecosystem,” Petitti said. “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 also said women’s basketball is “another huge opportunity” for growth and gave a shoutout to Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, the AP Player of the Year. The women’s NCAA title game between Iowa and LSU drew its biggest viewership ever this year.

“When you see momentum someplace, I think as a leader, your responsibility is to really double down and focus on that because there’s a great opportunity in women’s basketball game right now,” he said.

“In terms of other bigger initiatives, I need more time on the ground before I start thinking about things specifically,” Petitti added.

Maryland President Darryll J. Pines said there were more than 100 applicants and nominees for the job after Warren announced Jan. 12 he was leaving to become president of the Chicago Bears. The list included conference commissioners, athletic directors, school presidents, chancellors, media professionals and professional sports executives.

Pines said the group was whittled down to about 30, then 12 to 14 were interviewed on Zoom before in-person meetings with finalists.

“He wowed us with his knowledge of the challenges facing our industry, intercollegiate athletics, and his track record for finding innovative solutions to complex challenges,” Pines said of Petitti. “He is known as a collaborator and a person who simply simply gets things done.”

Petitti most recently was co-CEO of The 33rd Team, billed as an NFL think tank. He has held executive positions at CBS Sports and ABC Sports, overseeing rights acquisition deals for a variety of sports leagues and college and professional sports events. He played a big role in the creation of the Bowl Championship Series.

He also was the CEO of MLB Network from 2008-2014, leading the launch of the network that, at the time, was one of the biggest. After that, he became MLB’s deputy commissioner and chief operating officer from 2014 to 2020, and was involved in all aspects of the league — including leading broadcast and digital media, special events and social media.

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