Why a Gus Johson-Less NCAA Tournament Is Bad for College Basketball

Will Osgood@@BRwillosgoodAnalyst IMarch 13, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10:  Big Ten Network announcer Gus Johnson calls the game between the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Indiana Hoosiers during the first round of the 2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 10, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

"To the basket, OOOOOHHHHH!!!!" 


 "Rise and Fire!"

"Big Time J"

Those are just a few of Gus Johnson's favorite expressions. They are a few that have enabled observers to feel closer to the action than anyone previously thought possible. It could even be argued those expressions coming from the lips of Gus himself have made the NCAA Tournament more than a bunch of basketball games. 

The NCAA Tournament is now a cultural event. It is a pop culture nomenclature at its finest. It runs through the DNA of any American male who has ever watched t.v. One doesn't have to have watched a minute of college basketball, or even watch the tournament itself to know the significance of the phrases above. 

If you're simply flipping through the channels on a Tuesday evening you will see an advertisement with Gus Johnson's voice going buzzerk over an incredible shot or other kind of play. Commercials for March Madness revolve around the man. 

Heck, his was the voice that made famous the Buffalo Wild Wings commercials until recently. Everyone knows Gus Johnson's voice. And everyone instantly associates his voice with the NCAA Tournament. 

To credit a man I will later critique, the same can be said of Jim Nantz—for The Master’s golf tournament—or Marv Albert for the NBA.

Without Gus Johnson, the NCAA Tournament would still just be a bunch of basketball games people watched. With him it is a brand.

The NCAA Tournament as a Brand

In April 2010, the NCAA signed a 14-year, $10.8 billion contract with CBS and Turner Sports to televise the Men’s basketball tournament. Per year, approximately $740 million is distributed to the institutions participating in the tournament.

You don’t need to be an economics major to know deals such as that are impossible without an incredible amount of demand. If the NCAA Tournament wasn’t a cash cow in terms of revenue it brought in, CBS wouldn’t pay nearly that amount to be the one televising the event.  

For several years, Coke has been the official partner of the NCAA Tournament. Supposedly they sponsor the tournament—whatever that means. We can be certain they are getting a piece of the revenue pie. Beyond that it’s uncertain what their partnership means.

But it’s quite clear, Coke recognizes a chance to have their brand attached to the NCAA Tournament is a dream scenario for any company.

“Get Buckets”

I'm smart enough to understand another fairly basic economics concept: anyone and everyone is potentially a money maker. Or if not money, popularity or power is a conceivable outcome, which will eventually lead to money.  

Such was the thinking when gusjohnsongetsbuckets.com was launched. Gus Johnson is popular if nothing else. 

One can go to that website and scroll over and click on any of his famous sayings to hear Gus Johnson's actual call. If you're a Gus fan, why wouldn't you go there every now and then to hear the guy's voice? 

Heck, I fully encourage you to click on the link and click on a few of the phrases. Hearing them isolated in the way they are is pure awesomeness, almost better than hearing them in real time. 

Big Ten Network

If you were unaware of why Gus Johnson won't be announcing in this NCAA Tournament let me give you a brief synopsis. Last year Gus became the featured Play-By-Play announcer for the Big Ten Network. In May, when his CBS contract had run out, he was essentially a free agent commentator. But he still had an agreement with BTN. 

Johnson needed to find a situation where he could continue his role with BTN but still do football. And he didn't want to stick himself in a corner where he'd just be a third-wheel network college announcer. 

So he signed on with Fox to become their go-to college football announcer. Along with Charles Davis, Gus called the "FX Game of the Week". But he signed an exclusive deal with Fox, which did not allow him to continue announcing basketball with CBS, thus no more NCAA Tournament for the King of the NCAA Tournament. 

If you follow BTN on Twitter or simply surf their website, they advertise Big Ten Basketball games not as "Michigan versus Wisconsin" but as "Gus Johnson on the call of Michigan versus Wisconsin". In other words, BTN is selling Gus Johnson not a quality basketball game. 

Then as the games get good and are near the end, you'll see a tweet resembling mine here: @MichiganBTN up 2 w/ 4 minutes to go. Tune in to hear Gus call this crazy one. #LawofGus. 

Because of BTN's brilliant marketing efforts, Gus Johnson is trending on Twitter every time he calls a game on the Big Ten Network. 

Nantz over Gus?

Before Facebook was what it is now, it was the capital of Gus Johnson fandom. There were about 20,000 Gus Johnson fan clubs. Of course, each claimed to be the official fan club of Gus. 

And we've already explained just how much influence Gus Johnson's name has had on the Big Ten Network. Fans want Gus! That's really all there is to it. 

But CBS did not. CBS wanted to stay with the Status Quo. Think about it for a sec, do you think for a moment that had CBS offered Gus the No. 1 Announcing role he would have turned it down? Not in a million years!

But CBS has a lot of money locked up and going into Jim Nantz's bank account to be their No. 1 guy for every sport they do, except college football (only because it coincides with the NFL). Don't get me wrong, Nantz is a very good announcer but rarely does his voice ever reach a decibel that makes me laugh or cry. 

With Nantz I feel like I'm listening to someone tell a story in a library. That's the exact reason he is an amazing golf announcer. That is exactly what a golf announcer should be. 

But basketball is a loud sport. Crowds go wild and you need someone who makes you feel like you're in the arena. That's exactly what Gus does. Maybe sometimes he goes overboard. But occasionally there's games where going overboard is appropriate. 

More than anything, the ultimate test for announcer should be: Who would you want calling the last minute of a championship game? Wouldn't it be Gus Johnson? If not him, Kevin Harlan? I don't know, Nantz would be somewhere between 80th and 427th on my list. 

Name me five memorable Jim Nantz basketball moments. If you can do it, I worry you may be the most boring person in the world. But everyone can name five Gus Johnson calls that caused their bones to shrivel and tears and/or laughter to immediately erupt. 

It's a brand, right? That's what the NCAA Tournament has become. Billions of dollars result from these games. There's no way that happens without Gus Johnson. Sure the Final Four is great, but without a doubt the two best days of the tournament are Thursday and Friday. Those are Gus' days. That's when upsets happen, when shots you thought impossible go in. 

That's when "The Law of Gus" is as much in play as at any time. 

The Law of Gus

Everything in this article has been leading to this. Why is an NCAA Tournament without Gus Johnson so unfathomable? The answer: "The Law of Gus". 

A quick definition to help you in case you're lost: any game Gus is calling is automatically 10, 20, perhaps even 30 times more likely to go down to the final seconds and have an ending you've never seen or imagined before. 

At the very least, "The Law of Gus" guarantees that two out of four games in his region will be amazing games you don't forget. Obviously the law isn't perfect, but it also doesn't fail too often. 

In Gus' final season as an NFL PBP for CBS, he had a running streak of six games which came down to the final play. He announced that crazy Broncos comeback over Cincinnati in the opening weekend of the NFL season in 2009. He announced that Jaguars Hail Mary over Houston and several other crazy endings. 

But most of all in the NCAA Tournament, he did the miraculous UCLA comeback over Gonzaga, Gonzaga over Florida back when we were just finding out who Gonzaga was, and 100 other memorable tournament contests. 

With no Gus Johnson, the NCAA is taking the chance that these memorable moments will be much fewer and further in between. Without a law, something is much less likely to occur. 

And if these magical moments stop happening, the value and brand of the tournament will begin to deteriorate. This isn't even a CBS issue, it's an NCAA issue. The tournament needs Gus much more than he needs the NCAA Tournament. 

Fans will miss him. But the living body that is the tournament may miss him more. 


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