College basketball braces for Gus Johnson's somber exit

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)

College basketball fans are a tough lot. We lean back in our recliners with beer(s) in hand, consistently in awe of the upsets and the general unpredictability that defines March Madness. And yet most are lightning-quick to shun any type of cosmetic changes to the sport's culture or general format. In the college hoops world, the word 'change' simply does not compute with the vast majority.

Because with dozens of undergrads bouncing to the NBA at a moment's notice and coaches endlessly shuffling between positions, we already have enough changes to worry about every single day as fans. Remember, we're still trying to forget that our beloved postseason was publicly skewered for the sake of adding a whopping three teams (and still no Seth Greenberg). So it's understandable that we cling to the things that tend to stick around longer than any part-time scholarship or unfulfilled contract. The rivalries. The preseason tournaments. The historic venues with sign-heavy fan bases and lunatic mascots. If it lasts for a couple years, then it eventually starts to become a small part of the sport's aura.

Beyond that, one of the biggest sticking points each and every season is of CBS and its coverage of the tournament. And because of CBS's exclusive rights to cover the tournament, the announcers themselves have started to become just as unmistakable as the coaches on the sidelines or team logos on the scoreboard. Traditional fans might not be able to resist Jim Nantz's nap-ready Masters voice, while a younger, more enthusiastic audience might prefer Bill Raftery and his flair for onions. But because we've let these men into our homes so many times before, we have been able to build up a preference level for the ones we hear, and enjoy the most.

Personal preference is key. If CBS were inclined to determine its most popular college basketball asset by way of fan voting, Augustus "Gus" Cornelius Johnson Jr. would win in a landslide, every single year. A fixture next to Len Elmore for a fair share of the most exciting March finishes of the past decade, Johnson's endless reel of signature calls has allowed him to garner cult-like status among college hoopsters. And quite honestly, you just can't say that about any of his peers (Where's the 'Ian Eagle Soundboard' again?). Say what you will about his true basketball knowledge or those occasional lapses in judgment ("should they foul here?"), Gus carved out a niche as the most exciting, original, and likable play-by-play man in the sport.

And now he's (probably) gone.

News broke this week that CBS is dumbfoundedly expected to let Johnson walk and not re-up his deal that expired in April. With such a versatile background it will only be a matter of time before his services are snatched up by a powerful network, and he appears to be mulling over an NFL/Pac-12 football deal with Fox Sports at the moment. Just to muddy up the situation further, other sources are saying that Johnson's CBS exit is premature, so there's always a one in a million shot if you're the optimistic type. But as far as we're concerned, it's hard to imagine CBS would get in a potential bidding war over a guy they willingly set free on the open market.

It is not easy to come to terms with the fact that Johnson's days of adding to March Madness lore could be long over. What's worse is the feeling that CBS doesn't seem to view him as the same type of indispensable asset that the viewing public does. Even though college basketball will move on just fine without him, not having Gus around for future NCAA tournaments is a definitive kick in the groin.

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