If you’re a hardcore college basketball fan, you’ve probably heard of him. You may have already heard some of his calls, whether live or on one of the several videos on YouTube. Hell, you might have heard his shouts from outside your window even if you WEREN’T watching his game.
The meteoric rise to fame of play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson is characterized by the excitable, dramatic nature of his calls, particularly in critical game situations.
And there are very few other sports events that epitomize excitement and drama more than the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the event that Johnson has been associated with since 1996.
Earlier this month, it had been reported that Johnson had left CBS after not being able to agree on a new contract. The following week, he reached an agreement to call college sports and select NFL games with Fox Sports Media Group.
And because CBS and Turner Sports still hold the rights to the NCAA Tournament until 2024, this announcement means that the de facto voice of March Madness will no longer announce tournament games on TV in the foreseeable future.
And the fact that CBS bigwigs weren’t pleased with Johnson’s ascent as the “de facto voice of March Madness” shows just how highly they think of Jim Nantz as the main sports voice at the network, especially given that he is only 52 years old and has been employed at CBS for half of his life.
That said, Johnson’s act has been polarizing to many fans.
While many enjoy his act, there are just as many who are glad that he is no longer employed by CBS.
Until he suffered a stroke late 2008, Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated would always rank the NFL commentators after each season, and he would place Johnson’s broadcasting team near the bottom of the rankings for the same reasons that some might like his broadcasting style, along with his tendency to get certain facts wrong and/or omit other facts. One would presume that Dr. Z would be glad that Johnson is no longer announcing NFL games on a regular basis.
In fact, in the aforementioned UCLA-Gonzaga clip, he failed to mention that UCLA had forced a held-ball situation in which the possession arrow favored UCLA when he was caught up in the moment, uncontrollably screaming.
Despite his popularity, the CBS executives would still place Johnson on their fifth or sixth tier on NFL telecasts, and for a brief time, was removed from coverage of the NCAA regionals, so it was quite evident that CBS had no plans to give Johnson any higher profile than he did, aside from announcing the occasional MMA event either on CBS or Showtime.
On the other hand, the Big Ten Network, the channel Johnson had been with since 2008, began utilizing him more in 2010. Already assigned to certain basketball games and the nighttime broadcasts of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament that were not aired by the ESPN networks or CBS, Johnson was featured in a promo for the Big Ten Network alluding to his increased workload with the channel. There was even a Gus Johnson sound-alike contest held by the Big Ten Network’s website back in February and March.
With Fox Sports Media Group, Johnson will now serve as the top announcer for Pac-12, Conference USA and Big 12 football games on FX, and he will do play-by-play for one of the conference championship games, the Cotton Bowl, and NFL games after the college football regular season ends, all on Fox. He will also call a few football games on Big Ten Network, which Fox has a minority stake in, while remaining the network’s main college basketball announcer. In 2013, he will announce games from the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament.
As one can probably tell, Fox is making good use of one of the most enthusiastic announcers in the business; one who is truly passionate about the work he does, unlike other lead announcers. When the 2012 NCAA Tournament comes around, and Gus Johnson is not announcing the games on the CBS/Turner Sports joint venture, CBS will eventually realize that they let a good one get away.