I love Gus Johnson. If he’s calling a bad college basketball game (ie, the dreck in the Big Ten), there’s a 62% chance I’ll stick around and watch. Johnson is easily my favorite college basketball play-by-play guy. He’s probably in my top five currently among announcers in all of sports. And sports fans on the internet are almost universally enamored with Johnson. So why would CBS let him go so easily?
I’m guessing the CBS suits – and Jim Nantz? – are probably sick of the groundswell of support for Gus Johnson to call the Final Four. Nantz is the network’s No. 1 college hoops play-by-play man, and will be until he retires. Nantz is terrific on golf and I think he’s very good on college basketball (others disagree). I thought Nantz had a solid NCAA tournament (his first two with Clark Kellogg left something to be desired, so they added Steve Kerr this year), but as a passionate sports fan, I couldn’t tell you one of his signature college basketball calls. (“Simon says Championship” was actually said by Billy Packer.) Johnson’s most memorable moments are seared in my brain, and one could argue he was the MVP of the 2007 NCAA tournament. Johnson was becoming synonymous with March Madness, significantly moreso than Nantz. CBS probably didn’t like that. Writes Bob Raissman:
but politics was an issue. The source said some of CBS Sports’ college hoops voices were not thrilled with Johnson’s rise to March Madness’ most popular voice.
That could be Gus Johnson’s agent talking, but a few years ago Raissman broke the news of Billy Packer leaving CBS, so I’m guessing he’s pretty plugged in at the network. Why would CBS care that Johnson was becoming too big of a deal? Because then he might want Nantz money (or even Verne Lundquist money, which is probably huge, since he’s their top college football play-by-play guy), and CBS probably wasn’t willing to spend that much on what, their No. 3 college hoops guy? I’m sure CBS liked the New York Times feature on Gus, but in the grand scheme of things at CBS, he probably wasn’t a top priority, which is kind of sad since March Madness is such a big deal. But is anyone going to not watch the tournament because it lacks Gus? Nope.
I felt Johnson was buried on the NFL at CBS – he always seemed to be calling a crappy Bills or Bengals game – so perhaps the suits at FOX will raise his profile. I really dislike the NFL product at FOX – from the announcers to the color scheme to the pregame garbage; the entire production is just boring and ugly compared to NBC and CBS – so perhaps this a good thing.
At FOX, Gus will also have a chance to call Pac-10 football (Andrew Luck!) and basketball (ummmm … UCLA-USC?), but I’ll miss his constant references to New York City and toughness, since so few players from the five boroughs matriculate to the Left Coast. I will certainly miss Gus calling the NCAA Tournament. And even the Pac-10 Tournament on CBS (or is that moving to FOX after the new Pac-10 network deal?).
If I had a pick a definitive Gus Johnson moment – which is incredibly difficult, like trying to pick a favorite Michael Jordan dunk or Will Ferrell’s best movie – it MIGHT be this one.