Brent Musburger, who has been a fixture on ABC Sports/ESPN since 1990, is in the final months of his contract with the network and there are increasing signs he could be replaced in the college football booth next season by Gameday host Chris Fowler, sources tell The Big Lead.
Neither ESPN nor Musburger’s agent – his brother, Todd – would confirm when exactly Musburger’s contract expires, but it is definitely up before the next college football season begins, multiple sources say. Musburger, an iconic announcing figure who turns 75 in May, has called the last four BCS College Football Championship game and will pair with Kirk Herbstreit to call Florida State vs. Auburn on January 6th.
Musburger is beloved by fans for his sly gambling references, and over the last four-plus decades, he’s earned a place on the Mount Rushmore of sports announcing, along with John Madden, Al Michaels and Howard Cosell.
So why might ESPN move on from him? (Before you ask – it would have zero to do with the Katherine Webb incident.) Musburger is still an excellent announcer, and his chemistry with Herbstreit is arguably better than any other pair network. But ESPN has two college football voices it may need to promote – or risk losing them to rivals CBS Sports and Fox Sports 1.
One would be Fowler, who is among the best hosts in all of sports, and the other is Rece Davis, a studio host who also does play-by-play on Thursday Night Football (a gig Fowler had from 2006-2009). Fowler has let it be known internally that he wants the network’s top play-by-play job. Here’s what he told Sports Illlustrated’s Richard Deitsch in August:
For me anyway, you want to be continuously challenged. Professionally, you don’t want to coast into the sunset. I am 50. [He turns 51 on Friday, Aug. 23]. I have a lot more to do and there are other things I want to do that I have not done. I don’t think it is anything secret internally what I want the next step 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 and it was very hard for me to give up calling Thursday Night Football on ESPN. It became too much to manage with GameDay’s increased schedule and travel. But giving up calling football in the booth was the toughest decision I have had to make. That remains something I am drawn powerfully to.
Then the question becomes whether or not ESPN would permit Fowler to do both Gameday and the Saturday night game on ABC – something that Herbstreit does. Often, Herbstreit finds himself criss-crossing the country Saturday – on occasion, by private jet – to get from Gameday to the site of the Saturday night game.
Enter Rece Davis. A network veteran from SEC country, many in Bristol pegged Davis as the most likely candidate to host SEC Nation. The job went to Joe Tessitore. Did ESPN not move Davis – an Alabama grad – to SEC Nation because he might take Fowler’s spot on Gameday?
So what will ESPN do? Keeping Musburger for another year or two seems easy enough, and it’s the move I would make if I were John Skipper. Then again, my love for Musburger dates back to the 80s, when he was at CBS calling every significant sporting event.
But would CBS or FS1 then jump at the opportunity to make a run at Fowler or Davis? Before you scoff at the idea of either leaving ESPN, keep this in mind: Verne Lundquist turns 74 in July and CBS has the best college football games every week. FS1 has the Pac-12, which is the second best conference in the country (but network star Gus Johnson usually gets the marquee games), and one way to pump up its version of ‘Gameday’ is to overpay for a recognizable host.
If ESPN does move on from Musburger, it almost certainly won’t be as ugly as when he left CBS in 1990. If you haven’t heard the story, Musburger was calling the Final Four for CBS when contract talks broke down and CBS decided it wasn’t going to bring him back. The decision came between the semifinals (Saturday night) and the title game (Monday).
After he called the Championship game – UNLV beat Duke by 30 – Musburger famously slung his arm around colleague Billy Packer and said, “Folks, I’ve had the best seat in the house. Thanks for sharing it. I’ll see you down the road.”
Related: Brent Musburger Loves Talking About Point Spreads and Thinks Sports Betting Should Be Legalized and Taxed
Related: ESPN Issues Apology For Brent Musburger Going “Too Far” About A.J. McCarron’s Girlfriend Katherine Webb