College football fans may not have known Tony Petitti’s name until this week, but they were certainly familiar with his work. After all, he was a key player in his one of the greatest changes in sports history.
Former SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer is often considered the father of the Bowl Championship Series, which began in 1998. The series pitted the nation’s top two teams in a national championship game for the first time in over a century. But it was Petitti, then vice president of programming at ABC Sports, who actually made it happen.
The previous Bowl Alliance did not include the Big Ten, Pac-12 or Rose Bowl. Petitti and ABC Sports’ first attempt to persuade these three parties to join a larger bowl structure and play a national championship game was unsuccessful. ABC Sports later convinced Kramer about what would become the BCS, and the conference and the Rose Bowl were eventually matched. Kramer told the Los Angeles Times in 2006 If he was the father of BCS, Petitti was the eldest son.
“The only reason BCS exists is because of Tony Petitti,” said former ABC Sports president Steve Bornstein. athletic this week. “I got a lot of credit, but he was the one behind it. It was his attitude of not wanting to.”
Twenty-seven years later, the man who tried to convince Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney to buy BCS is now the Big Ten’s own commissioner. Petitti, 62, was officially announced as the league’s seventh commissioner on Wednesday, beginning his term on May 15. That will change with the addition of USC and UCLA and the building of large new TV contracts.
Petitti is currently one of the most powerful figures in college sports and is at the center of the front line.
Petitti’s resume, which includes stints in Major League Baseball, various broadcast networks, and video game/esports company Activision Blizzard, at first glance suggests another outsider has been hired as commissioner for a major college conference. indicates that However, those who knew him well describe him as a consummate consensus maker, an innovative thinker, and someone who is drawn to college sports again and again. The son of a New York City police officer, Petitti may not be the loudest voice in the room.
“He’s the most creative person I’ve ever met,” said Harold Reynolds, who has worked as an analyst for MLB Network since the network launched in 2009.
“As the world continues to evolve, he will continue to be in front of everyone.”
Friends say the lessons from his Italian father and his blue-collar upbringing laid the foundation for the man Petiti would become. He played baseball at Ford College and eventually graduated from Harvard Business School. Later in his television executive career, Petitti often accompanied his father to big sporting events.
A former colleague of Petty’s at CBS Sports and ABC Sports described who loves working on college sports. He then moved into the world of programming, working on acquiring and scheduling college football and basketball games, as well as other sports such as NASCAR.
“He loved Keith Jackson,” said Tim Brand, a longtime broadcaster who worked under Petiti on both ABC/ESPN and CBS. “He was always really into what we were doing in college sports.”
After helping create BCS, he joined CBS Sports in 1997 as Senior Vice President, before returning as Executive VP and Executive Producer of all sports programming. At CBS, he worked closely with Mike Aresko, now Commissioner of the American Athletic Conference, to produce college sports programming. Petitti and Aresco have previously worked with ABC/ESPN, and Brando says the two are rocking out when it comes to college sporting events such as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and his bowl games. explained. The two shared a text this week as word of the Big Ten hiring got out. The AAC Commissioner called him a perfect fit.
“He has a quiet demeanor,” said Aresko. “He’s quietly effective. He doesn’t show off. I think he fits very well into Big Ten culture.”
Brando said Petitti will be at the CBS studios Saturday afternoon watching college football and interacting with the studio team about the latest in sports.
“[NFL]Sundays bring together the network’s top bros, but not all of them come on Saturdays. Tony never missed a Saturday when I was there,” Bland said. “He was always crazy. If something exciting happened in the game, he wanted to talk about what it meant.”
Brando tweeted in 2021 that the Pac-12 should see Petitti as its commissioner. Petitti’s desire to learn how the organization works as a whole helped him understand everyone’s role and how each decision affected them, his colleague said.
“When he came to CBS Sports, he became a student of every component and every contributor to the sports division,” said LeslieAnne Wade, former senior vice president of communications for CBS Sports. “He was sitting in our office, spending time with us, and taking it back[to the upper echelons].”
He also helped with golf programming for CBS, including events such as the Masters. He is still on the USGA Executive Committee and reports his golf handicap of 7.1. Veteran CBS Sports his announcer Jim Nantz wrote briefly about Petty and his relationship with golf and his father in his 2008 memoir, Always By My Side, of Nantz.
“On weekends, they would drive to Long Island’s famous public course in Bethpage, arrive at 4 a.m., book a tee time, and sleep in the car,” Nantz wrote. . “In 1999 Tony brought his father in to play at Pebble Beach and Cypress Point. As with Tony, he says he can’t go back to Pebble without thinking about his father and the warm memories of that special round together.”
MLB Network officially debuted on January 1, 2009. This is his fourth major American sports league to launch a 24-hour cable channel. Petitti, who left CBS to take on this project, was primed for innovation and had big ideas for the sport of resistance.
Matt Vasgersian, MLB Network’s first studio host, said: “When this network started, he was a TV guy who loved baseball. became.”
Reynolds notes the multiple ways Petitti has innovated on the MLB network, from regular use of live look-ins to diamond sets that allow analysts to grab a bat and swing or throw a ground ball to illustrate a point. explained.
“People didn’t do that,” said Reynolds. “Okay, turn on any channel. NFL Network, anyone. We’ve done it all.”
Petitti continued to innovate, serving directly as Deputy Commissioner and COO of Major League Baseball from 2014 to 2020. Those working in and out of the sport credit him with many of the positive changes in baseball, from expanding playoff formats to his successful one-off events such as “Field of Dreams” games.
He left the MLB in August 2020 to become Activision Blizzard’s president of sports and entertainment, but left the company less than a year after friends and colleagues said they weren’t a good fit. .
“He’s a strong executive and has a big vision,” said Bornstein, a former Activision Blizzard executive who didn’t overlap with Petitti. “The horizon there wasn’t as big as it was in the Big Ten, which makes a lot more sense.”
Many managers speculated that this job would go to someone with years of experience in college sports. Warren’s Big Ten tenure included some of the best, but also some very lows. He announced in January that he was leaving the conference to return to his NFL roots, taking over as president and COO of his Chicago Bears without terminating his original contract with Big Ten. is. His first day with the Bears is April 17th.
Petitti’s hiring shocked the entire industry, not just because it stepped into one of the most important jobs in college sports. Like Warren, Pac-12’s George Kurifkoff, and Big 12’s Brett his Yeomark, Petitti was named president of the college despite having no direct experience working in college sports.
Petitti’s background leaves him well prepared for any change, whether it concerns the business model of collegiate sports or the possible restructuring of the conference in the future. Petitti will also oversee the integration of USC and his UCLA into the league, broadening his creativity with regards to scheduling, logistics and travel.
Asked why the league would choose a media executive if the Big Ten had just signed seven-year media deals with FOX, CBS, and NBC and had no pressing contracts to negotiate, an industry source said he would not hire someone of this type. I replied that hiring was never a bad idea. Sources at Big Ten noted that the long-form deal, which was announced last August, still needs to be executed and will require significant work.
Petitti will also be involved in negotiating media rights related to the expansion of the college football playoffs. CFP officials will have to renegotiate his contracts for 2024 and his 2025 seasons in a 12-team format, and could essentially start from scratch after 2026. This is a multi-billion dollar deal and a significant revenue stream for all involved. Petitti will be attending his CFP conference in Dallas later this month.
“This is going to be a big challenge for us to figure out what kind of media deal we want to do,” Alesko said. “The length, the partners, all that. I appreciate Tony’s opinion.”
Internally, Petiti’s main priority when taking over the Big Ten is building relationships and consensus. They don’t have the same type of unilateral decision-making power that their professional sports counterparts have.
“He’s really good at getting everyone to pull on the same side of the rope,” Vasgersian said. “It’s not easy in any leadership role. Not only did Tony have a really good idea of who was good and who was full of s, he also told you things you didn’t want to hear.” You’ll think about it, and you’ll be like, ‘Damn, that’s was for my best interest.
Reynolds said those working with Petiti on the Big Ten need to get used to explaining their point quickly. He’s a great storyteller and dinner companion, Reynolds said. idea. ‘ If you don’t tell him something in 30 seconds, he won’t listen to you. ”
But Petit listens. Reynolds said that the hallmark of great leaders is their interest in the perspectives of others. Petitti has an amazing ability to not only listen to others’ suggestions, but also win their support. and himself.
This brings us back to the formation of the BCS, a pivotal moment in college football history. Reflecting on that monumental decision, Petitti told The Times of Los Angeles in 2006 that the system for determining the sport’s national champion was not perfect, but it was better than previous ones.
And he admitted that a real playoff would be better.
“This is the last great sporting event ever created,” Petitti said.
Now he’s back in college sports, with the newly expanded college football playoffs coming up. He will once again play a big role in shaping the future of the sport.This time, you’ll know it’s him.
(Top photo: Tony Dejak/AP)