Jason Benetti’s move to Fox indicative of ESPN’s problem in booth

Benetti is just the latest broadcaster to defect, following Joe Davis in 2014 and Adam Amin in 2020. All three are major players at Fox and respected nationally.

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Jason Benetti is switching his national allegiance, leaving ESPN for Fox. He’ll join analyst Brock Huard on Fox’s No. 2 college football crew, giving him bigger games, larger audiences and the chance to raise his profile even more.

Don’t worry, White Sox fans. He’ll continue calling games for NBC Sports Chicago.

However, Benetti will be one-and-done at NBC’s Peacock, where he has shined as the voice of the streaming service’s package of early Sunday MLB games. That’s because he also will call Saturday baseball for Fox, in addition to college basketball on Big Ten Network and FS1.

Benetti made a name for himself nationally calling college hoops at ESPN, most recently teaming with Robbie Hummel on some fantastic games that showcased his ability. He also called college football and MLB Statcasts.

But Benetti couldn’t crack a top football crew at ESPN, and with his contract running out, Fox presented him the opportunity to call Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 games. Every week, he’ll be on the broadcast network, calling some of the biggest games on the schedule as Fox beefs up its booths after the top team of Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt. Benetti’s first broadcast will be the Northwestern-Nebraska game Aug. 27 in Dublin.

Fox has been throwing a lot of resources at college football. Since 2019, it has reaped ratings rewards despite going up against ESPN’s “College GameDay” with its own pregame show, “Big Noon Kickoff,” and airing prime-time-caliber games at 11 a.m.

And Fox has taken talent from ESPN to call those games. Benetti is just the latest broadcaster to defect, following Joe Davis in 2014 and Adam Amin in 2020. All three are major players at Fox and respected nationally. Davis is in his first year as the network’s lead MLB voice and will call NFL games. Amin calls baseball, including a playoff series, and football, in addition to being the Bulls’ TV voice. They’re vying for the No. 2 NFL crew.

Plus, all three are in their mid-to-late 30s, putting Fox in position to have continuity with some of their top talents for decades. That differs from ESPN, which not only let the trio go but has struggled to develop other talents, as evidenced by its revolving door in the “Monday Night Football” booth, which led the network to poach Fox’s top NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman.

But ESPN’s problem is deeper than that. Some play-by-play announcers might not believe they have a long-term future at ESPN because of the network’s decisions to move talent off the anchor desk and into the booth. Chris Fowler moved from “GameDay” in 2015, Steve Levy added “Monday Night Football” to his duties in 2020 and Karl Ravech became the voice of “Sunday Night Baseball” this year.

In fact, Benetti was an option to replace Matt Vasgersian on “SNB,” but ESPN dipped back into its anchor pool. Not that Ravech can’t do the job. He had done play-by-play before, and the new Ravech-David Cone-Eduardo Perez booth is a significant upgrade over the Vasgersian-Alex Rodriguez pairing. But Benetti is better and worthy of a national showcase game, and Fox and NBC seem to agree.

It can’t be the best message to aspiring announcers at ESPN when three of the network’s top play-by-play jobs don’t go to those who made it their vocation. Industry insiders point to years of layoffs of longtime producers and coordinating producers who formed the fabric of ESPN and provided oversight of quality control. Some say executives have played favorites.

Whatever the reason, Fox has exploited ESPN’s problem developing talent, and Benetti is another example.

Remote patrol

  • The Marlins-Cubs game Saturday will air on Marquee Sports Network and FS1, where former Cub Eric Karros will join Kevin Kugler in the booth.
  • Bears fans can begin scouting the Lions with the season debut of “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Detroit Lions” at 9 p.m. Tuesday on HBO. The five-episode series also will be available on HBO Max.
  • NFL Network will air the first part of “The Top 100 Players of 2022” at 7 p.m. Aug. 14 (Nos. 100-51). Only NFL players determined the rankings, which were separated into four shows. Think any Bears made it?
  • Prime Video continues adding to its “Thursday Night Football” coverage, hiring Turner Sports’ Taylor Rooks, an Illinois alum, as a feature reporter. She’ll appear on pregame, halftime and postgame shows.

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