The Big Ten is expected to hire former MLB and television executive Tony Petitti as the conference’s next commissioner, sources told ESPN. An announcement is expected in the upcoming days.
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. Petitti brings a diverse background in both 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 set up of college athletics as a clunky and non-linear business where commissioners mostly lack 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. He is expected to finish his tenure this month and start with the Bears on April 17.
Petitti 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 upcoming seasons.
Petitti graduated from Haverford in 1983 and Harvard Law School in 1986. He told the Haverford College website in 2005: “I loved the Haverford experience, and being at a small school, but it was fascinating to me to travel to these college games across the country and see 80,000 people in the stands week after week.”