The past 48 hours have reshaped the world of college football television as we know it.
Rece Davis will be the new host of College GameDay, and with that announcement comes an end to any notions that he would succeed Verne Lundquist as the play-by-play face of the SEC on CBS. It’s true that ESPN must find a new play-by-play man for Thursday night college football, but if there’s a long-term story to think about in the world of college football broadcasting, the SEC on CBS is more of a centerpiece.
Lundquist is still a joy to listen to, and after the Brent Musburger experience at ESPN, we don’t want to see another broadcasting icon to be prematurely removed from his perch. This is still Uncle Verne, coming into our living rooms on Saturday afternoons. This is not a universal sentiment among national college football fans, mind you, but I dare say it’s a feeling most neutral parties share: Keep Uncle Verne as long as he’s still the broadcaster he is.
(Do SEC fans feel this way? I’m not sure, because the vehemence with which many SEC fans claim to dislike Verne might drown out a comparatively “Silent Majority” of Southern college football fans who approve of his presence in the booth.)
One day, though, we’re going to have to confront the reality of an SEC on CBS booth without Lundquist. It’s not on the near horizon in the context of next season — not by any means — but Rece Davis’s deal with ESPN through 2021 closes one door in terms of a possible line of succession at CBS come 2018 or 2019. When we get to that point, which candidates make the most sense to succeed Uncle Verne?
Here’s a brief look, starting with those inside the CBS fold and then going beyond for a couple of wild-card candidates:
Carter Blackburn has experience within the ESPN and CBS realms. He’s called college basketball games with Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery, and started calling NCAA tournament games before turning 30 years old. (Born in 1979, Blackburn called an opening-round weekend at the 2008 tournament.) He has built his broadcasting identity primarily in college sports, currently at CBS Sports Network. Since he’s already made the move back to CBS from ESPN, he’s better positioned than most to be the future of the SEC on CBS.
Andrew Catalon, you might recall, made this unfortunate mistake during last year’s NCAA tournament. What many college sports fans might not remember about Catalon is that CBS stuck by him and gave him an NFL announcing assignment this past season. Catalon’s coverage of the NFL, college sports, tennis, and other assignments makes him a versatile voice who, with a few more years of work, could develop the presence needed to carry the SEC on CBS brand.
Spero Dedes would probably sit behind Blackburn and Catalon on a list of candidates, at least among those currently working under the CBS umbrella. Dedes has more professional sports credentials on his resume than college, particularly in football, where he’s more recognized as an NFL voice. However, Dedes certainly possesses an easy familiarity with college sports just the same. He’s a veteran NCAA basketball announcer, and his candidacy for the SEC on CBS spot is legitimate for the best of reasons: He has been part of the SEC on CBS “B-team” in the past.
Among the non-CBS candidates in the mix, there are two names which tower above all others.
Joe Tessitore would seem to have it made as one of the central faces of the SEC Network, not to mention a play-by-play voice for a New Year’s Six bowl game as long as ESPN will have him. Tessitore gets to work at SEC Media Days. He has a larger SEC and college sports footprint than ever before in a steadily ascendant career. Yes, he’d probably want to stay where he is. Yet, if anyone outside CBS ever wanted to make a push for this play-by-play spot in a post-Lundquist world, Tessitore would certainly rocket to the front of the list. Tim Brando, had he wanted this spot, would have stayed at CBS instead of moving to Fox Sports 1. Gus Johnson has taken a similar path. This leaves Joe Tess and…
Sean McDonough, formerly the voice of the SEC on CBS before Lundquist took his place.
This would be a coming-home story in the broadcasting business. McDonough left a deep imprint on viewers during his CBS days. He called Joe Carter’s walk-off home run in the 1993 World Series with a still-good-back-then version of Tim McCarver. He teamed with Bill Raftery in the 1990s at CBS, creating one of the best duos in college hoops television history. And, last but certainly not least, he electrified SEC fans with calls that resonate even now.
His signature call out of all of them?
“BEHIND THE DEFENSE!”
No Florida fan will ever forget this call from 1997 (at 1:33 in the video):
A McDonough return to CBS would make sense for both the broadcaster and the network. McDonough would bring instant credibility and name recognition to a property he already enhanced two decades earlier. McDonough would call regional finals in the NCAA tournament again — he and CBS would surely like that.
Most fans want Uncle Verne to continue to make them smile on autumnal Saturdays, but when that day comes for a legend to hang up the headset and the microphone, Sean McDonough would likely be the man longtime college football fans would want to replace him at CBS.