TurnkeyZRG Assists Big Ten Conference in Recruiting Seventh Commissioner

Tony Petitti, a former MLB and television executive, will step into his new role on May 15. His strong and varied background at a time of significant change for collegiate sports was a major factor in his hiring over a talented and diverse candidate pool, says the search firm.

April 13, 2023 – 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.”


Mr. Petitti is a proven leader who brings nearly four decades of sports, business, and media industry acumen to the Big Ten Conference. He served as deputy commissioner and chief operating officer of Major League Baseball and president and CEO of MLB Network, among other key roles in television.

“I would like to thank all the candidates who spent time with us during the commissioner search process as each illustrated outstanding leadership qualities and a breadth of experience,” said Darryll Pines, president of the University of Maryland and chair of the search committee. “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.”

“We are at a time in collegiate athletics that we need leaders with innovative forethought, the highest principles, and a spirit of fairness and partnership,” said Robert Jones, chair of the Council of Presidents and Chancellors and chancellor of the University of Illinois. “Tony brings a dynamic style of leadership and impeccable integrity to the conference. The entire Council of Presidents and Chancellors is thrilled to have him serve as the seventh commissioner in Big Ten Conference history.”

Proven Sports Leader

A 14-time National Sports Emmy Award winner, Mr. Petitti has also held senior executive roles at CBS Sports and ABC Sports overseeing rights acquisition deals for a variety of sports leagues and collegiate and professional sports events, including the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, regular season men’s basketball, college football, NFL, PGA Tour, the Masters, U.S. Open Tennis Championships, and the Little League World Series.

As deputy commissioner and COO for Major League Baseball (2014-2020), Mr. Petitti was involved in all aspects of MLB including leading broadcast and digital media, special events (All-Star Game, Home Run Derby, MLB postseason scheduling and operations), MLB Network, MLB social media, consumer products and licensing, marketing, youth development, international, and security.

“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,” said Mr. Petitti. “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.”

Founded in 1895, the Big Ten Conference, is considered the oldest Division I sports conference. Based in Rosemont, IL, the conference consists of 14 educational institutions. The broad-based programs of the schools provide over $200 million in direct financial support to more than 9,500 students for more than 11,000 participation opportunities on 350 teams in 42 different sports.

Related: TurnkeyZRG Assists Pac-12 Conference with Chief People and Inclusion Officer

The Big Ten sponsors 28 official conference sports, 14 for men and 14 for women, including the addition of men’s ice hockey and men’s and women’s lacrosse since 2013. Its member schools include: Indiana University, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Rutgers University, University of Illinois, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota, University of Nebraska, Northwestern University, Purdue University and University of Wisconsin.

TurnkeyZRG Recruits Commissioner for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference
TurnkeyZRG recently assisted in the recruitment of Travis Tellitocci as the fourth commissioner of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). He replaces Rich Ensor, the longest-tenured NCAA Division I multisport conference commissioner. “Throughout the search process, Travis demonstrated that he is an emerging leader in college athletics, and is well-suited to build on the incredible success of Rich Ensor,” said the Rev. James J. Maher, Niagara University president, who also serves as president of the MAAC. “The MAAC has never been stronger, and Travis’ breadth of experience will be critical as we face the challenges of Division I athletics, strengthen our focus on the well-being of the student-athletes, grow the inclusivity of their experiences, and build on the storied legacy of the conference.” Mr. Tellitocci comes to the MAAC from the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC), where he has served as assistant commissioner for football, basketball, and officiating for more than six years. 

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.

Mr. Perna has 30-plus years of 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, according to the firm. In 2021, the firm was acquired by ZRG Partners.

NCAA President Search

TurnkeyZRG recently assisted in the recruitment former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker as the next president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the major governing body for intercollegiate athletics. He succeeded Mark Emmert, who will continue to serve the NCAA as a consultant through June. “College sports is undergoing significant transformation,” said Mr. Perna. “The legal and policy environments are shifting continually, threatening the NCAA’s ability to maintain a consistent experience and a level playing field for student-athletes across the country. The best way to continue to support student-athletes is for the NCAA’s next leader to bring a new set of skills that meet the challenges of the moment. Mr. Baker’s record of bipartisan leadership in both the public and private sectors will be invaluable in the hard but critical work of bringing Democrats and Republicans in Congress together to secure a stable, sustainable future for college athletics.”

“As a former student-athlete at Harvard (where he played basketball for the Crimson), and as a husband and father to former student-athletes, Mr. Baker brings important personal perspective that will keep the needs of student-athletes at the center of the modernization of college sports,” said Mr. Perna.

Mr. Baker’s appointment marked the culmination of a comprehensive and inclusive national search process, led by a subcommittee of the NCAA Board of Governors and TurnkeyZRG. Prior to recruiting candidates, the search committee spent months identifying and assessing the qualities most needed in the organization’s next president, including input from more than 300 individual NCAA stakeholders.

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

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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