Imagine Sean Hannity anchoring a show on CNN. John Madden calling an NBA Finals game. Conan O'Brien hosting the NBC evening news.
We could be on the cusp of a similar up-is-down, cats-are-dogs type reality in the college football media ecosphere, as The Sporting News reported Tuesday that Fox and Big Ten Network are actively pursuing Paul Finebaum to join their network properties. (Fox owns 51 percent of BTN.) Sinclair Broadcasting Group, Cumulus Media and Sirius XM are also making a run at Finebaum, according to the report.
The Sporting News report does not delve into what roll Finebaum would play between the networks, but the natural assumption would be that Finebaum does for Fox what he currently does for ESPN: chew up weekday viewing hours while wearing various hats as a studio analyst on weekends.
Fox Sports ousted its controversial president Jamie Horowitz last summer -- if Horowitz didn't create the "Embrace Debate" mantra that rules daytime sports television, he certainly popularized it -- and promoted Mark Silverman to replace him; Silverman previously ran BTN.
Finebaum's contract with ESPN is set to expire this month, and multiple reports have indicated that negotiations have been slow to non-existent, though a Sporting News said negotiations between Finebaum's reps and the Worldwide Leader are "close -- but it's not over yet."
ESPN recently went through its own change in leadership when president John Skipper resigned over the winter. Jimmy Pitaro replaced Skipper, and Pitaro has made fixing ESPN's fractured relationship with the NFL his top priority. With the change in leadership, The Sporting News report notes, has come a change in philosophy in regards to talent negotiations, as a number of other high-profile, front-of-camera names have seen their own contracts go down to the wire before ultimately being renewed, so it's possible the Finebaum situation is just the new Business As Usual in Bristol.
Though the NFL will always be ESPN's top priority, college football is a significant property for ESPN, and the SEC is ESPN's most significant brand within the college football umbrella. And, thus, Finebaum is ESPN's most significant talent within that SEC umbrella -- he's a Nolan Ryan-esque innings eater for SEC Network during the week, works as an analyst on SEC Network's GameDay equivalent Saturday show and appears on a number of college football studio shows on weeknights. Though ESPN brass has tried to send a message to its talent that anyone is replaceable, they don't just grow Finebaums on trees.
The bet here is that a deal ultimately gets done and Finebaum remains with ESPN. That solution seems to make sense with both sides.
But that outcome certainly wouldn't be the most fun. It wasn't long ago Finebaum and Jim Harbaugh got into a war of words, and one imagines he wouldn't head north simply to play nice in the sandbox. You think he wouldn't relish to do his "Disappointed tax collector tells millionaire college football coach how to do his job" routine with Harbaugh and Urban Meyer on their conference's own network? We're talking about a man who once wrote a book called My Conference Can Beat Your Conference... and he wasn't talking about the Big Ten.