Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson Calling Games Together? Yes, Please…Posted by Chris Johnson on July 1st, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
The college basketball viewing experience in enhanced by exciting play-by-play commentary. This is not a difficult concept to grasp: Watching games on TV is more fun when the people explaining the dynamics of those games, a) know what they’re talking about; b) don’t go off on too many Vitale-ian tangential rants; and c) employ proper diction and tone, using the inflection of their vocal cords, to accentuate the most thrilling moments. There are but a few commentators who have genuinely mastered their craft, and needless to say, Bill Raftery is one of them. This name should sound familiar; Raftery’s ties to Big East hoops run deep – he’s practically synonymous with ESPN’s “Big Monday” series. When the foundational core of the league’s membership broke off from its unglamorous Conference USA cohorts this season to form its own 10-team conference, taking the Big East league name out the door, it signed a new media rights deal with Fox and ended its long and fruitful connection with Big Monday. That left Raftery with a rather crucial decision to make: Stick with ESPN, where he became part of one of the sport’s best broadcast teams with Jay Bilas and Sean McDonough? Or follow his Big East roots to the upstart sports network Fox Sports 1 (set to debut on August 17)? Raftery wisely chose the latter, and college hoops fans will very much appreciate the implications of his decision.
If Raftery is the most professional hoops announcer in the business, Gus Johnson is easily the most exciting. Johnson, one of Fox’s top play-by-play men across numerous sports (including college football and soccer), was already set to become a part of Fox Sports 1’s Big East coverage. Raftery joined Fox with the understanding he’d be allowed to continue calling Big East games. I’ve basically drawn the dots for you – now all you have to do is connect them. YES: Johnson and Raferty will be calling games together next season. Fox confirmed the dream pairing in a release last Thursday.
“Adding a renowned, popular veteran like Bill Raftery to a family of announcers at FOX Sports that already includes many of sports television’s biggest names is an incredible coup,” said FOX Sports Executive Vice President and Executive Producer John Entz. “More importantly, in teaming Bill with Gus, we have reunited the most energized, entertaining college basketball broadcast team ever, and we can’t wait for them to work their first game.”
Are you excited? Because you should be. I am! There are a lot of games – not just in the Big East, but in any conference, full stop – that aren’t nearly as thrilling or enlightening as they otherwise might be because the announcing, for lack of a better phrase, sucks. It’s not difficult to point out the few individuals with a knack for adding the extra descriptive verve college hoops fans have come to enjoy over years of thrilling contests. Johnson is known for his, shall we say, stentorian in-game exclamations. Rafterty for, well: Onions! Bringing those two defining styles together reprises the most entertaining, decibel-blowing, aurally arresting two-man college hoops team of all time. Facts are facts, man. Had Raftery and Johnson never worked together before, I might have had my doubts about uniting these two powerful broadcast presences under one roof, about the clash of styles, the potential for a messy on-air tug of war. Chemistry among broadcast teams is a dying breed in modern college hoops. Raftery and Johnson had it, and hopefully, can revive it under their Fox partnership in the years to come.
There are a lot of reasons to be excited about the new Big East. A true 10-team, 18-game round-robin schedule will provide an equal playing field of sorts during league play. Many of the league’s founding members are committed to taking their traditions and program identities and resurrecting them in slightly different league conditions. The league’s power brokers will do what’s best for men’s basketball, and men’s basketball only. Add the league’s primary broadcast team to the list of new Big East amenities. Raftery and Johnson can make this league must-see viewing on their broadcast merits alone.