The American Athletic Conference Selects TurnkeyZRG to Lead Commissioner Search

March 1, 2024 – TurnkeyZRG was recently called in by the American Athletic Conference (AAC) to lead in its search for a new commissioner. Mike Aresco, the AAC’s only commissioner in the league’s 11-year history, has announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2023-24 academic year. TurnkeyZRG is helping the AAC in finding a commissioner who will literally and figuratively “be on that hill” with everything you got.  A true leader to work collaboratively with the commissioners of the NCAA, ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, etc., student-athletes, media partners, political leaders and all stakeholders for a sustainable future for a new version of college sports. 

The AAC seeks a true leader, true diplomat, true collaborator, true innovator and above all a true believer in the value and future of college sports. Candidates need to be agile, adaptable, tireless, fearless and able to build trust, relationships and coalitions in a quickly and materially changing landscape. The AAC commissioner role is for a “servant leader” who is comfortable with adversity, relishes big challenges, and wants the AAC to play a leadership role. The next AAC commissioner will have the opportunity and the responsibility to build consensus for the future of college sports.

TurnkeyZRG seeks a commissioner for the AAC who has a record of successfully anticipating, driving and implementing change. Specifically, The American needs a leader that has these five key attributes:

Strong and confident, yet humble enough to admit he or she does not have all the answers. The “convener/collaborator” who embraces uncertainty, diagnoses problems, and solicits ideas for solutions to lead a team. Excellent at bringing people together & building consensus. Satisfaction is derived from solving challenges, not making decisions. Trustworthy.

Relentless advocate with the courage to stand up, be heard, and make the case for the AAC to all audiences, including the other conferences, the industry at large, the media, etc. It takes courage to be advocating even when standing alone, as the lone voice. Well-rounded seasoned business and “political” advocate and negotiator with a demonstrated record of quickly identifying and accelerating new business opportunities and leveraging emerging trends through skillfully pressing the AAC case. Proactive, not reactive. While The AAC has important partnerships, and a strong operating team, the highest priority for the commissioner is to be outward looking and advocating.

Compete at an Elite Level

Has the energy, enthusiasm, competitiveness, and character to consistently compete at an elite level. Models a culture of competing and winning with integrity and virtue; committed to equipping all student-athletes with the resources to compete at the highest caliber, reaching and exceeding their potential. A commissioner as dedicated and resilient as our student-athletes with a “motor” to match.

Exceptional interpersonal and communication skills; EQ as high as IQ; an active listener; diplomatic with demonstratable conflict resolution skills; a builder of teams, morale, and consensus. Strong advocacy skills; an expert motivator. Transparent and trustworthy team player, putting the greater good first. Strong recruiter and developer of diverse teams.

Related: TurnkeyZRG Leads CFO Search for the Pac-12 Conference

Highly visible, ever-present representative, not only at AAC events, but also present and heard externally throughout the industry. Unblemished record of personal and professional behavior, ethics, and integrity in complete alignment with “The AAC core values.” An advocate for diversity, equality and inclusion who has a successful track record of implementing the same. Principled, objective, and impartial when balancing competing concerns. A role model for all stakeholders of the AAC.

TurnkeyZRG Assists Big Ten Conference in Recruiting Seventh Commissioner
Following an extensive national search, TurnkeyZRG has assisted in the recruitment of Tony Petitti as the seventh commissioner of the Big Ten Conference. He will begin his tenure on May 15. He replaces Kevin Warren, who is becoming president and CEO of the Chicago Bears. TurnkeyZRG conducted a comprehensive and inclusive recruitment process that delivered a diverse slate of potential candidates from within collegiate athletics, professional sports, media, government, and more. “Tony Petitti is a great fit with the Big Ten,” said Len Perna, chairman and CEO of TurnkeyZRG. “On top of that, another way to look at Tony’s hire is holistically across college athletics, meaning that Tony is a key puzzle piece on the macro team: Charlie Baker, Greg Sankey, etc. That macro team has to figure out a bunch of big, vexing, complex issues in college athletics. Tony’s experience is complementary and additive to the other key players on that macro team. That’s not by accident,” he said.

“The bar was so incredibly high on this search,” Mr. Perna said. “The Big Ten is the strongest blend of athletics and academics, sitting at the epicenter of college sports. The states that make up the Big Ten, now coast to coast, are major engines of the U.S. economy, government, culture, education, etc. There is no more powerful alliance in education or sports. And that attracted an extremely strong and diverse pool of incredible candidates.”

The American Athletic Conference, which has established itself as a top NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision conference, consists of 15 prestigious institutions: the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of North Carolina Charlotte, East Carolina University, Florida Atlantic University, the University of Memphis, the United States Military Academy (in football only), the United States Naval Academy (in football only), the University of North Texas, Rice University, the University of South Florida, Temple University, the University of Texas at San Antonio, Tulane University, the University of Tulsa, and Wichita State University (in basketball and Olympic sports).

Founded in 1996, TurnkeyZRG is a specialized talent recruitment/executive search firm filling C-level, senior-level and mid-management-level positions throughout sports, media and entertainment. Over the past 25 years, the firm has filled more than 1,400 positions. TurnkeyZRG helps teams, leagues, stadiums, arenas, theaters, college athletic departments, events, sponsors, agencies, media companies, private equity companies and other clients identify, recruit, and hire the best management talent.

Len Perna is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Turnkey. He has 30-plus years’ experience in the sports and entertainment industry, with senior-level management experience in sales, event marketing and management, sponsorships, venue feasibility and development, facility operations, licensing, and legal affairs. Since founding Turnkey, Mr. Perna has managed over 1,400 executive searches.

Related: TurnkeyZRG Recruits Commissioner for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Executive Editor; Lily Fauver, Senior Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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