ESPN's college football coverage could have undergone a seismic shift talent-wise. Instead, one of its best on-air personalities will double-dip and become the voice for the sport.
The network announced Thursday in a release that Chris Fowler would become the new play-by-play announcer for Saturday Night Football as part of a new contract that takes him through 2023. Fowler replaces Brent Musburger, who officially joined/was moved to ESPN's SEC Network on Wednesday.
Musburger's move was months in the making, leaving plenty of time to speculate over who would succeed him in the booth. Fowler always seemed like a natural choice, and with his contract expiring in July, he had leverage if ESPN wanted to keep him.
In an interview with Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated last year, Fowler strongly implied he wanted to do more play-by-play:
I don't think it is anything secret internally what I want the next [role] 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.
So Fowler got his wish, but ESPN comes out on top too.
Just as big as Fowler heading to the booth is the news that he will continue to host College GameDay. That means his schedule will be the same as ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who provides color commentary for GameDay and Saturday Night Football.
That's a demanding day for Fowler considering the amount of preparation each event requires.
According to Deitsch, "some in ESPN management [did] not want Fowler" doing both. However:
Also, there is the business element. GameDay is a profitable and marketing behemoth -- one of the most successful things ESPN has ever done -- and there are some who believe changing the talent set-up poses significant risks.
Between Lee Corso's always-entertaining headgear selection and the numerous feature stories the show runs, Fowler is the glue that holds everything together. He's as smooth as anyone in the business.
Had Fowler moved on from GameDay, the likely replacement would have been Rece Davis, who hosts the network's studio coverage for college football on Saturday.
Davis would have been a fine replacement, but Fowler has become synonymous with GameDay. Reiterating Deitsch's point, Ralph Russo of the Associated Press believes tinkering with GameDay could have been a questionable move:
If it were my call & knew everybody would be happy with it, I'd put Rece Davis on Saturday night play-by-play and Fowler stays on GameDay.— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) March 12, 2014
And that's not to say Fowler wouldn't do a great job with play-by-play, I'd just hate to tinker with GameDay.— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) March 12, 2014
It turned out to be a non-issue, however, and one of ESPN's best programs will keep its host.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.