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How Penn State, Pitt, WVU played role in the Fox-ESPN trade for Joe Buck

TIM BENZ
The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)
FILE - Fox Sports play-by-play announcer Joe Buck, left, and analyst Troy Aikman work in the broadcast booth before a preseason NFL football game between the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars in Miami Gardens, Fla., Aug. 22, 2019. Aikman is on the verge of leaving Fox after 22 years to become the lead analyst on ESPN's Monday Night Football. The New York Post reported that Aikman will sign a five-year deal that would rival the $17.5 million per year Tony Romo is making at CBS. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

We just spent the better part of two weeks debating Pittsburgh Steelers free agent signings and Pittsburgh Penguins trades.

So why not kick around another big deal that went down recently: sports broadcaster Joe Buck getting traded from Fox to ESPN in exchange for one college football game.

Oh, and, yes, Penn State, Pitt and West Virginia were involved in the deal.

Here's how it went down, as explained by John Ourand of Sports Business Journal.

After Buck's broadcast partner Troy Aikman left Fox in February, Aikman quickly joined ESPN as an analyst on the "Monday Night Football" broadcast. ESPN decided it wanted to keep that broadcasting tandem together. The two have been calling games together on Sundays at Fox for 20 seasons.

ESPN lured Buck away and got him out of his contract at Fox. The duo is slated to make a reported $165 million over five years.

What did ESPN give back in exchange for Buck's talents as a play-by-play man?: One Big Ten football game next season. Specifically, the Penn State-Purdue game on Thursday night, Sept. 1.

"Under the contract terms that ESPN and Fox Sports signed with the Big Ten in 2017, each network carries 27 Big Ten football games per season. But this coming season, Fox will have the rights to 28 games, and ESPN will have the rights to 26," Ourand explained. " Fox Sports wanted to claim that Penn State-Purdue game as its extra game."

Why was ESPN comfortable losing it? According to Ourand, "The game was not as valuable to ESPN, which has a West Virginia-Pittsburgh game scheduled for that night."

See! They really should play the Backyard Brawl every year. But I digress.

Ourand expects that Fox will "bring in millions of extra ad sales dollars for the network" with that extra Big Ten game.

A big salary: It better if Buck is deemed valuable enough to sign a $75 million contract (as reported by the New York Post's Andrew Marchand) to leave Fox for ESPN. Marchand previously reported that Aikman's deal was $90 million for five years.

These broadcasting contracts always floor me. I never understand how networks correlate the ratings impact of who the broadcasters are to the dollar amounts they seem willing to pay.

Sure, it's always better to have the best talent calling your network's biggest games. And I'd agree that Aikman and Buck are an upgrade in name value over the previous group of Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick.

That said, those guys weren't bad. I may like Levy on hockey more than NFL. But he was perfectly fine calling football games. Riddick was imminently knowledgeable, even if he wasn't wildly engaging. And I just thought Griese was stuck between trying to be a meat-and-potatoes analyst and a guy who needed to provide entertainment and levity.

Does broadcaster make a difference? Even though I watch sports for a living and even call games on occasion on the side, I can honestly tell you that I've never once actively turned on a game — or turned off a game for that matter — because of the broadcast crew.

Do the good ones heighten the enjoyment of a good game or make a bad game more interesting? You bet. However, you are never going to hear me say: "I've got to watch Seahawks-Commanders" on a Monday night in October just because Buck and Aikman are calling it.

Meanwhile, I'm never avoiding Chiefs-Bills just because less prominent voices are on the call of that one.

The annual fascination over who calls "Monday Night Football" always strikes me as an over-managed, anachronistic debate. Howard Cosell has been gone from the "MNF" booth since 1983. And it feels like network executives have been chasing the ghosts of his unique characteristics with the likes of Don Meredith and Frank Gifford ever since.

It ain't happening. Ever.

"Monday Night Football" is one of five NFL broadcast windows per week now (Thursday night, three on Sunday, and Monday night). Not to mention all the college football we get per week, too. Back in Cosell's day, the Monday night national broadcast was one of a kind, and we expected larger-than-life stars in the booth. Even Aikman and Buck aren't that. Neither are Al Michaels, Sean McDonough, Mike Tirico or Cris Collinsworth. They are all just really, really good at what they do — with some panache in their delivery.

It's just that, sadly, America doesn't allow for big personalities on national broadcasts anymore. We all say we want someone "unique, different, brash and new."

Until we get them. Then we quickly say they are "trying too hard." Or that they are averting attention away from the game by forcing entertainment. Just like "Monday Night Football" tried to do over the years with the likes of Tony Kornheiser and Dennis Miller.

To me, the game is the game. While the broadcast teams may enhance or distract, they never get the clicker into or out of my hand. How their personalities translate into being worth $165 million is beyond me.

So, too, is how one college football game in September between two teams, who went a combined 16-10 a year ago, can be deemed as worthy compensation. I'm sure I'll be watching, though.

As I will every Monday night. As will many of you. Which is perhaps how we get to the $165 million number. I guess.