Before the college basketball season started, ESPN announced that there would be a transition at the top of their announcing lineup. Jay Bilas would replace Dick Vitale as the lead game analyst for Saturday primetime. With both signing contract extensions with the network in the not-too-distant past, it meant that both would still be a major presence on the network’s college basketball coverage, but Bilas would undoubtedly have the #1 analyst spot. Throughout the season, Vitale has bounced around the country calling various games for the network and still making many appearances.
The Bilas-Vitale move sounds quite familiar to what ESPN did on the college football side in moving Chris Fowler to the role of #1 play by play man and shifting Brent Musburger to the SEC Network. However, with the vast array of basketball games on ESPN (and perhaps the nature of the basketball regular season), the move from Vitale to Bilas hasn’t been as startling or polarizing.
However, that still doesn’t mean it wasn’t a bit of a jolt to hear that Vitale would not be commentating a game between North Carolina and Duke for the first time since joining ESPN. The Tampa Bay Times was the first to report the news that it would be just Bilas and Shulman getting the assignment on Wednesday night. Vitale will be calling another big game this week when #1 Kentucky looks to stay undefeated against Tennessee on Tuesday.
— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) February 16, 2015
He was also gracious about the news in this tweet from last week:
@jschil Yes 35 straight years / it was fun / I will miss it but ESPN has been great to me /No Hall of Fame w/o ESPN
— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) February 13, 2015
ESPN released the following statement to Awful Announcing about the broadcast assignment:
“Dick Vitale is an integral part of our college basketball coverage, calling high-profile games throughout the season and bringing his incredible Hall of Fame presence and passion to the sport.”
While Dickie V not calling Carolina-Duke might be startling and surprising in a vacuum, in the context of the season and his new role at the network it’s not a shocking development. It’s not like ESPN suddenly decided that Vitale would be taken off the game for some odd reason, this has been the pattern for the entire season. Bilas and Shulman are the new #1 announcing duo and they should have the call of the rivalry matchup. Given Vitale’s presence in the UNC-Duke game over the years though, you can call this the official passing of the torch from Dickie V to Jay Bilas as ESPN’s lead analyst in some respect.