The Big Ten's new media rights deal will not include ESPN, reports John Ourand of Sports Business Journal. This creates a running lane for CBS and NBC to join Fox in broadcasting the conference's extremely attractive football and basketball slates while ESPN, which started carrying Big Ten action way back in 1982, goes all-in on the SEC as the inevitability of superconferences creeps closer.
As part of the deal terms, CBS is expected to carry a football game in the 3:30pm ET window on Saturdays, and NBC would carry one in primetime. NBC’s Peacock streaming service will carry an undetermined number of games per year exclusively. Peacock also will simulcast the games that air on NBC. ESPN said no to the conference’s final offer of a seven-year deal, sources said. That package was for linear-only games and did not have any direct-to-consumer rights.
On the CBS front, this makes all the sense in the world as they have a deep broadcasting bench for both sports. On the NBC side of things, though, I guess I will comfortably admit that I have some questions. Primary among them: Who will be calling these games?
NBC has long been the home of Notre Dame football, with the occasional Bayou Classic or All-American Bowl sprinkled in. With Mike Tirico, previously the play-by-play voice of the Irish contests, set to replace Al Michaels on Sunday Night Football, it's still unclear who will be in the booth in South Bend. And that's only to fill existing inventory.
So adding a marquee primetime contest, plus potentially more ancillary Big Ten broadcasts on fall Saturdays would mean building out an infrastructure. One that, to my admittedly novice eye, doesn't seem to be there. Tom Hammond called Notre Dame for two decades before being replaced by Dan Hicks in 2013. It's hard to imagine they'd return, with Hicks especially comfortable leading golf coverage. Doug Flutie is kicking around and Chris Simms does college stuff, though shifting him away from NFL would be an interesting decision. Terry Gannon is a Swiss Army knife with plenty of college broadcasting under his belt.
Outside of that, search the network's talent page and see if you have any thoughts. It's difficult to project.
Jason Benetti would have been a prime option, but he just agreed to become the No. 2 college football voice at Fox. Timing is what it is but having this deal in hand may have changed the calculus dictating how hard NBC pushed for his services.
Obviously and importantly, there's time to address this. The new deal begins with the 2023-2024 school year. Reading the tea leaves, it appears at least a handful of attractive jobs will be up for grabs. The top of the food chain at the networks has been pretty stable for some time and opportunities like this don't come about too often.
Everything about college sports is up in the air. Including the voices that will narrate them.