A big change is coming to the world of the CFL, one many of us didn’t see coming.
As you know by now, long-time CFL on TSN play-by-play announcer Chris Cuthbert announced recently that he would be leaving the three-letter network for the hockey-filled Sportsnet.
Cuthbert’s contract expired at the end of May and the Toronto native told Postmedia’s Dan Barnes that he felt like it was time to see if there was anything else out there. Not surprisingly, Rogers offered Cuthbert a deal.
Cuthbert has been one of, if not the best play-by-play announcer in this country for a long time. So, even if Sportsnet didn’t have an immediate need for him, they’d be foolish not to at least have a conversation with the veteran sportscaster.
In the end, Cuthbert decided it was time to pursue his dream of calling a Stanley Cup Final, and frankly, I get it.
Even though we love the Grey Cup, calling the Stanley Cup is the pinnacle of sports broadcasting in this country. At this point, it’s pretty much the only major Canadian even Cuthbert hasn’t called. Cuthbert’s logic for jumping ship at this time is logical.
Sportsnet has the NHL’s exclusive national rights for at least the next six years. He’d be nearly 70 by the time the rights opened up again and there would be no guarantee that Bell would be able to secure the rights away from their rivals, either.
So, now was the time for Cuthbert to go for it.
The big question now is where does TSN go from here?
When Bell and the CFL signed a new broadcast rights extension last season, I’m sure they envisioned Cuthbert in the big chair for at least a few more years.
Given the fact that Cuthbert is 62, there was more runway behind him than ahead of him at this point, however, and it does seem like TSN was getting ready — to their credit.
Last season TSN started using TSN 1260 personality Dustin Nielson as a play-by-play voice. Nielson had done some work for the main national network in the past at the Spengler Cup, among other events. By all accounts, Nielson will get more games this season.
Is he ready for the top job? That’s another question. One that I can’t answer.
There aren’t too many obvious in-house replacements for Cuthbert. Nielson could get there but might need a little time to grow both his skills and his profile before that happens.
There might be a revolt should Rod Black end up calling the next Grey Cup on TV.
Veteran announcer Gord Miller has called CFL in the past but prefers to call hockey and at this point, his bosses will want to keep him happy. He’s already got a pretty heavy workload as is too. So, I don’t foresee an increase in his CFL usage coming.
I also don’t imagine that Bell is prepared to spend money to try and bring in someone from another network.
Sportsnet personalities such as Dave Randorf or Tim Micallef could fit the bill, as could Mark Lee. They all have experience calling Canadian football. Lee is perhaps the most likely as Randorf just jumped to Sportsnet not too long ago to call hockey and the odds of Rogers allowing Tim and Sid to be broken up (or letting them both leave) is beyond slim.
So, what does TSN do? There’s probably only one real answer for now.
For the time being, should he be interested, Rod Smith should be moved from the panel to the booth. I’ve heard he’s not all that into travelling but using Smith just once a week could actually help. It adds a more “game of the week” feel, compared to having two crews do two games a week.
That leaves Black and Neilson to split the other three games.
Replace Smith with someone like Kate Beirness, who has been working as the host of the panel on Thursday nights for the last few years. Beirness (or someone similar) brings a younger (and female) voice to TSN’s coverage of the league, something that is needed.
If and when Neilson or someone else is ready to take over for Smith, then that switch can be made.
It would also be fair at this point for TSN to examine who they use as colour commentators as well.
There’s no doubt that TSN will feel the loss of Cuthbert in the short-term, but in the long-term, it could force the network to make some much-needed changes to the CFL on TSN.