10 January 2014

What is next for Brent Musburger? UPDATED

Monday's BCS National Championship Game was notable in that it was the final BCS Championship Game as college football heads into a new era with the College Football Playoff that commences next season. But was it also notable for potentially being the final game Brent Musburger called as the lead voice for college football on ESPN? The great Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead reported a few weeks ago that Musburger's contract expires within months. Knowing that, are Musburger's days as the voice of ESPN College Football numbered, or his days at ESPN at large?

While I have learned to never rule anything out, I would be very surprised if Musburger were to leave ESPN for another network. He is 74, turning 75 in May, and I do not see somebody that interested in bringing in somebody at that stage in their career , even with his stature as a broadcasting legend. The closest I could see to something similar is Marv Albert joining the NFL on CBS in 2011 at the age of 70, and that is a different case in that he had somewhat of a relationship with CBS as part of his role at Turner Sports working for the CBS/Turner consortium broadcasting the NCAA Tournament. So in my opinion, he's either returning to ESPN or retiring.

Now a return to ESPN is where this discussion gets interesting. ESPN is in an interesting spot in that not only is Musburger's contract up, but also those of Chris Fowler, the host of College GameDay, and Rece Davis, who is ESPN's main studio host on college football as well as the play-by-play for ESPN's Thursday night package (both also serve various other roles at the network). Both are ESPN veterans and both are excellent at what they do, meaning that other networks will likely be in hot pursuit of either (or both).

So ESPN may have to sweeten the pot to keep both in the fold. McIntyre reported that Fowler is eyeing the lead college football play-by-play gig and has made it known internally, and Fowler hinted at desiring to do more play-by-play going forward in an interview with SI's Richard Deitsch.
"I don't think it is anything secret internally what I want the next for me to be at ESPN. I don't think that is a mystery given the landscape. It's why GameDay is a unique standalone thing for me. It doesn't act or feel like a studio show. But the live events are the most inspiring, unexplored thing for me.
"I really have a passion to document live events as they happen. Hosting is wonderful and remains really satisfying but the joy for me is calling big matches"
Hypothetically speaking, could Fowler do both College GameDay and work the Saturday night game? Sure, Kirk Herbstreit does it and has yet to have much of an issue in terms of traveling if the GameDay and ABC game sites are not the same.

But now you have to figure in Davis. It would make plenty of sense for ESPN to slide him into Fowler's shoes on GameDay, and then put Fowler on the ABC Saturday night and it is a promotion for both.

However, would it be that simple? ESPN as is does not align their crews like an NFL network does in terms of that there is an order of broadcast teams numerically. Is ESPN's second play-by-play guy Brad Nessler, who works the ESPN Saturday primetime game? Is it Sean McDonough, who works the ABC Saturday afternoon game? Since there is not a clear answer as to who is seen as the logical successor (the connected James Andrew Miller says that some top folks in Bristol want a potential wild card to succeed Musburger).

But again, this is all a discussion if Musburger retires, leaves or takes a lesser assignment to ease his travel schedule. That third point leads to what the aforementioned Miller believes is next for Musburger:
Considering that Musburger lives in Florida, SEC country, that is a logical move. But ultimately, I think the choice will be his whether he wants to take a lesser assignment or continue as the lead voice. And if I had to make a prediction, I think he will take a short contract extension and continue working with Herbstreit as the lead ESPN college football voice. I see no reason for him to hang it up, he is still pretty darn good on football (basketball is another story) and he is one of the few announcers that can amplify the significance of any game. He still has his fastball, even as he did introduce himself as Kirk Herbstreit on Monday.

But for media junkies like myself, this is certainly to keep an eye on going forward as we move into the offseason. And after all, who doesn't love an opportunity to dig for news on the "Worldwide Leader?"

UPDATE: Looks like Musburger is in fact out, as per SI's Richard Deitsch, with Fowler having the inside line to replace him with Davis in the mix as well. Musburger has been offered the SEC Network gig but has yet to accept.

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