ESPN is at a crossroads with its college football announcing crew. Earlier this month, The Big Lead reported and an ESPN source confirmed to Awful Annoucing that lead play-by-play man Brent Musburger's contract is due to expire before the next college football season. So what is ESPN to do?
Musburger is still popular with fans and there's no sign at age 74 that he's slowing down. His play-by-play is still sharp as ever and he can manage to slip in gambling references at a moment's notice.
However, as ESPN transitions from the last Bowl Championship Series this season to the first-ever College Football Playoff in 2015, the network may have to choose whether it wants Musburger on the call or if it will go in another direction. It's time to handicap ESPN's choices for its top play-by-play slot and which direction it could go for the 2014-15 season and beyond.
Re-sign Musburger to short-term contract
This is the best option for ESPN. Brent will be 75 in 2015. And as with Vin Scully who is calling baseball in his 80's, Musburger has not shown any signs of slippage or errors. He's still on top of the game so there's no rush to get anyone in his place. And after Keith Jackson retired in 2006, one could argue that Musburger along with Verne Lundquist are the true voices of the sport. As it did with Lee Corso for College GameDay, one can see ESPN signing Musburger to a two to three year contract extension which would allow him to begin the College Football Playoff era.
But for argument's sake, let's say the talks between management and Musburger fall apart like his 1990 negotiations with CBS and Brent parts ways with Bristol. Who would be the man who might replace him? ESPN has a rather deep bench and can tap several men to succeed him. Let's review some of top candidates.
Davis is a versatile host and play-by-play man for ESPN. He calls Thursday night games and hosts College Football Final in addition to the basketball version of College GameDay. Since 1996, Davis has served in a myriad of roles for ESPN, but his work in the studio for college football and basketball has raised his profile over the last decade. It's likely that he would remain in this role for the foreseeable future.
Odds to replace Brent: 25-1
Fowler has made it known that he wants to call play-by-play and leave the studio. The Big Lead speculates that ESPN could take him from GameDay and place him into the booth with studio partner and Saturday Night Football analyst Kirk Herbstreit. To make a jump from the studio to into the broadcast booth is a big move and that would pole vault him over several people who are currently calling games. Fowler does call play-by-play on tennis and did call the Thursday night games until 2009 before relinquishing them to Davis. While he would be a good candidate to replace Musburger, he'll probably be moved to either the "B" or "C" team before making the move to the "A" team.
Odds to replace Brent: 10-1
McDonough has called several sports for ESPN including baseball, basketball, football, golf and hockey and all of them well. He's been calling afternoon games on ABC with Chris Spielman and they have forged a very good team. They'll be on the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day. McDonough would be an excellent choice to replace Musburger, but probably won't be put on the "A" team in 2014.
Odds to replace Brent: 15-1
Already recognized by Awful Announcing in the Top Ten Announcers of 2013, Nessler would be a great choice to replace Musburger should ESPN choose not to bring him back. He's formed one of college football's strongest announcing teams with Todd Blackledge and would be a good stopgap choice as the top man for three to four seasons. He could keep the chair warm for Fowler if ESPN wants to go in that direction.
Odds to replace Brent: 7-1
Wouldn't it be great to have The Law of Tess on Saturday Night Football? One of the busiest men in sports broadcasting, Tessitore will add the new SEC Nation to his plate when the SEC Network launches next year. That will be in addition to his work on the daily College Football Live, Saturday night SEC games on ESPN, boxing and college basketball. Joe Tess' profile rose when he called the wild Friday Night Football games with fantastic finishes. He would be a good pick to replace Brent, but with his SEC Network duties, it's unlikely that he would make the move to the "A" team.
Odds to replace Brent: 20-1
Mike Tirico? The Monday Night Football voice? It's not totally outside the box as you think. According to James Andrew Miller, the author of Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, there are some inside Bristol who want Tirico to become the number one college football voice.
— James Andrew Miller (@ESPNBook) December 1, 2013
Tirico calls a very good game and does play-by-play for college basketball, NBA and tennis for the Worldwide Leader. He's well-liked and could easily make the transition to the Saturday Night Football booth. Could it happen? Don't be surprised.
Odds to replace Brent: 5-1
All of this depends if ESPN does not bring Musburger back next year, but even he does return, Bristol management has to be thinking long-term and who will succeed him. It's likely that he'll be back, but these negotiations can turn on a dime. We'll monitor the story and keep you updated.