Petitti’s goal: More Big Ten games impacting CFP


ROSEMONT, Ill. — As the College Football Playoff management committee continues discussions about the future of the sport’s postseason, Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti wants to ensure deeper conferences have access points that maximize the stretch run of the regular season.

In a wide-ranging interview Wednesday with ESPN, Petitti said he is focused on ensuring the Big Ten, which will increase to 18 members with four West Coast additions this summer, has November schedules packed with games that carry CFP implications, like many of the professional leagues do.

“We’ve got some work to do to figure out what that [future model] is, because obviously, it has real impact on your regular season,” Petitti told ESPN. “You want to make sure that your teams have the ability to have a breakout season and qualify. And we also have to be realistic about what should get you access, in terms of number of wins. Look, we want meaningful games late in the season.

“We want fans to think that you know a game in the second week of November, even if you’ve already lost two or three games, still has a lot of value. That’s the goal.”

Washington State president Kirk Schulz, who serves on the CFP board, told ESPN that a vote on a model for the 2024 season — the setup would feature the five highest-ranked conference champions and the next seven highest-ranked teams — was likely Tuesday. Petitti and the other commissioners, who make up the management committee, are set to meet Wednesday in Dallas.

The commissioners are expected to examine access and other topics as they discuss the CFP’s future contract.

“When you’re as deep as we are, we’ve got to do things to make sure that we have the access to the postseason that we think we deserve and has to be earned on the field,” Petitti said. “I’m a big believer in that, and that helps your regular season. More teams playing more meaningful games later in the season, I think we still can do more there.”

Earlier this month, the Big Ten and SEC announced a joint advisory group to address major topics and challenges around the college sports landscape. After working with the SEC as a TV executive earlier in his career, Petitti said a more formal group made sense. Petitti visited the SEC office in Alabama shortly after being hired at the Big Ten, and has maintained a consistent dialogue with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey.

The advisory group will include presidents and chancellors, as well as athletic directors from the two richest and most powerful conferences.

“Both of us looking at the depth of things that were changing so quickly, how do we increase our pace of our thinking, of our strategy, to meet these challenges?” Petitti said. “We have [athletic director] groups that are really experienced, that work well together, so it became a very natural thing.”

Petitti said the partnership is not intended to create an “isolation chamber” and that the two leagues are hoping to produce initiatives that benefit the entire college sports “ecosystem.”

“I don’t believe it puts us in an adversarial position with anybody else,” he said. “It’s just, we got to find some solutions here.”

Petitti called his first football season as Big Ten commissioner “remarkable,” noting the national championship won by Michigan, the first Big Ten team to earn a title since Ohio State in 2014. The Big Ten’s decision to impose in-season discipline for Michigan — coach Jim Harbaugh was suspended for the team’s final three regular-season games — amid the NCAA’s investigation into illegal off-campus scouting and signal stealing drew significant criticism for Petitti. Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, in a piercing statement following the suspension, called the Big Ten’s actions during an NCAA investigation “completely unethical” and “an assault on the rights of everyone.”

Petitti said he and Manuel have moved past the friction and even sat next to each other at a dinner the night before Michigan played Alabama in the CFP semifinal at the Rose Bowl. Petitti called Manuel “one of the leaders in our room.”

“People sometimes misconstrue, these are never personal things, this is not personal,” Petitti said. “This is about doing what’s right for the conference, what’s right for our institutions. It doesn’t mean everybody’s going to agree with decisions that come from the league office, but that’s the job.

“At the end of the day, it’s about doing what you think is right in the process. That’s what we did, and there’s reaction to that, and we just worked our way through it.”

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