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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

‘Nothing Is Off the Table’: New AAC Commissioner Isn’t Afraid of the Controversial Ideas

  • Tim Pernetti told reporters he’s interested in bringing private equity into the college space.
  • Other commissioners have come out 100% against athlete employment and unionization models—Pernetti, notably, did not.
Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

During his introductory press events with media members Thursday, incoming AAC commissioner Tim Pernetti kept repeating two phrases: “take big swings” and “nothing is off the table.” Pernetti does not begin his tenure at the AAC until June, but already he’s hinting that he’s taking those ideas literally.

Pernetti, to varying degrees, appears interested in bringing private equity money into the AAC, and in considering some sort of athlete unionization or employment model. On the former, specifically, he observed that “private equity is heavily investing in sports,” noting that “it’s circling the neighborhood in college sports.” He believes it’s inevitable that the industry will enter the NCAA space and that it could be a major benefit to the AAC. 

Pernetti didn’t specify how he might bring private equity investment into the conference, but there’s a model to follow, set by Florida State, that could create more capital for school distributions—which, in many ways, is the glue to keeping a conference together. Currently, the AAC distributes only between $9 million and $10 million to each member school every year, just a fraction of what the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, and Big 12 provide. The conference could also work with private equity investors on funding outside events or other conference-related initiatives.

Turning to another controversial topic, Pernetti did not immediately discount the possibility of supporting an athlete employment and/or unionization model when asked by Front Office Sports. He said he believes there may be some aspects of athlete employment that aren’t being talked about, and that he intends to learn more about the Dartmouth unionization case.

But unlike other commissioners, who have unilaterally declared on behalf of their own athletes that employment would be detrimental, Pernetti says he will simply ask them. “Do student-athletes want to be employees?” he said. “I want to know what our student-athletes think about that.”

Pernetti, who will replace the conference’s first commissioner, Mike Aresco, is one of several new FBS commissioner appointees in the past five years. But while Pernetti, 53, spent many years working in pro sports and in the media industry as EVP of content for CBS Sports, he isn’t new to NCAA athletics: He was the athletic director at Rutgers for four years. He also worked as an EVP at Endeavor and as the president of the IMG Academy.

The conference he’s inheriting was once known as the beneficiary of the breakup of the old Big East and the last round of conference realignment. (The current Big East schools broke off and took the name with them, leaving Aresco and football schools to become the AAC.) In the most recent round of realignment, however, the conference has become known as one of the more vulnerable, losing three major football brands to the Big 12 last year.

But now? “We want this conference to be known as the most innovative in collegiate athletics,” he said.

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