3rd And Long: Pernetti Faces Huge Challenge

Tim Pernetti wants his own Shark Tank in FBS where the SEC and Big Ten are the apex of predators

By Mark Blaudschun

(Ed. Note: FWAA Board Member and Past President Mark Blaudschun's column about current college sports topics.)  

GRAPEVINE_ In his 13-year run as commissioner of the American Athletic Conference, Mike Aresco gained the reputation as the champion of the undererdog.

I called him The Man of LaMancha, as he fought largely a quixotic battle for his conference to have a a prime seat at a College Football playoffs controlled by the Big Ten and SEC.

It worked--to a degree.

The AAC has more than held its own as the best of the "Group of 5--non Power-6 conferences."

The AAC has prodced  the highest seeded team seven  times in the CFP playoffs. Cincinnati in 2021 has been the only Group of 5 team to qualifiy for the four-team playoffs.

Aresco is riding off into retirement in June, leaving behind a newly-configured 16-team league that faces a new set of challenges.

And the keys to the kingdom have been handed to 53-year-old Tim Pernetti.

Pernetti is Mike Aresco on steroids.

He is Jersey bred, Jersey educated (Rutgers), married a Jersey girl and came back to his alma mater as athletic director as the first step in his grand scheme to..???

That is the intriguing part of the picture which will have Pernetti as the focal point, a new AAC commissioner dealing with the ever-changing landscape of college athletics.

Pernetti started as a tight end at Rutgers.

Pernetti's skills, however, are in the art of the deal. 

He has big ideas. "Nothing is off the table,'' he said in an introductory press conferfence as the AAC commissioner last week.  "I want to turn our conference office into a little shark tank.''

An appropriate reference, although Pernetti was talking about the television show involving wannabe entrepreneurs, not the predatory fish.

The "sharks'' in college football are the Big Ten and SEC and Pernetti has been given the task of keeping his conference alive in an enviroment which has already devoured the historic Pac-12 and has the Atlantic Coast Confefence in jeopardy.

Pernetti has worked as a college administrator, worked in televison and comes to the AAC as president of the pretigious IMG Academy, one of the top athletic prep schools in the country.

Pernetti always reaches for the stars, which is part of his speil and and part of his charm. He's good at selling.

He came close to landing at a much higher level--comissioner of the Big 12--but fell a few votes short of Brett Yormark.

Pernetti generally sees every glass as half full.  He says he sees the expanding 12-team CFP system as an opportunity.

"There's post-season opportunities that don't exist,'' he said, "that could be created to enhance the post season and the bowl season.''

Pure Pernetti. 

The problem that Pernetti must overcome is that he doesn't have that much saleable inventory.

With SMU now headed to the ACC, who is the marquee team in football for the AAC?

Tulane, Army, Navy?

Schools such as UTSA and UAB might be future powers, but that time has yet to arrive.

Pernetti, away from the spotlight, concedes his job is diffifult. "We will have to fight to keep people because things ARE changing constantly,'' he said. "There's a window ahead of us to do some things differently and used in a way where members don't have to leave.''

Pernetti needs to create that atmosphere. He says he will try anything, listen to any idea. 

Good stuff, but is he figuratively spitting into the wind?

The AAC will have a voice in the room, and Pernetti will make his voice heard. He has that type of personality and presence.

 But the direction of college football will be dictated by ESPN and by the SEC and Big Ten.

The AAC could indeed get a seat at the main table, but it is likely to be located closer to the butler's pantry than the kitchen.

Pernetti relishes that challenge. 

"I know what's out there,'' he said, with a laugh. "I'm from Jersey.''

His background suggests he has the skills for the task ahead. 

Aresco had those skills too and did a marvelous job in fighting his fight.

Pernetti will arrive at the start of the energy-drainining summer season in Dallas.

How well he does will be one of the many intriguing story lines for a sport that is changing almost on a daily basis to reinvent itself.


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