Mind-blowing facts about Jim Nantz and Billy Packer, part of Final Four and college hoops history
It’s the end of an era in college basketball television.
Jim Nantz, the voice of the Final Four on network television since 1991, will step down from his college basketball play-by-play role at CBS Sports after the 2023 Final Four in Houston. Nantz attended the University of Houston, so next year’s Final Four offers Nantz a chance to leave his coveted seat in a city which means a lot to him. Ian Eagle will replace him at the 2024 Final Four, becoming the new lead voice for CBS-Turner’s NCAA Tournament coverage.
There’s a lot to unpack, and a lot of history to note for the record, in the wake of Nantz’s big decision:
THE BIG ONE
The biggest fact attached to Nantz’s big decision is this: After Nantz steps down in 2023, the 2024 Final Four will mark the first Final Four in 50 years which is not called by either Jim Nantz or his longtime TV partner and color commentator, Billy Packer.
The 1975 Final Four began Packer’s run at college basketball’s biggest event.
PACKER'S FIRST FINAL FOUR
Billy Packer’s first Final Four as national TV play-by-play voice was one of the special ones: John Wooden’s last national championship at UCLA, and his very last game as a college coach in 1975. UCLA and Wooden beat Joe B. Hall and Kentucky in San Diego. That’s the first of what will eventually be 49 straight Final Fours with either Packer or Jim Nantz at the microphone. The 2023 Final Four will bring that streak to an end, given Nantz’s decision to step away and hand the baton (and the microphone) to Ian Eagle in 2024.
THE BEST COLLEGE BASKETBALL ANNOUNCING TEAM EVER
No, it’s not Nantz and Packer (though they’re up there on the list), but the trio of Packer, Al McGuire, and Dick Enberg. That team is widely credited with expanding the popularity of college basketball and boosting the sport to the extent that it grew into the March Madness phenomenon it is today.
Yes, the main driver of college hoops’ popularity — more than Packer-McGuire-Enberg — was the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson 1979 national championship game between Indiana State and Michigan State, but having the elite broadcast team there for the showdown certainly helped.
COACH AND BROADCASTER, PART ONE
Two years before his first Final Four in 1975, Packer watched Memphis State and coach Gene Bartow lose to UCLA in the national title game at the 1973 Final Four.
Packer had pursued the Memphis State job a few years earlier, but Bartow beat him out. It’s one of the great “what ifs” of college basketball history.
COACH AND BROADCASTER, PART TWO
In 1977, Billy Packer called the national championship game between North Carolina and Marquette. The coach of Marquette was Al McGuire, who won the national title and walked away from coaching in his final game on the bench. He never coached a game again. He went to the booth with Packer and Enberg on NBC for the 1977-1978 season. Packer called McGuire’s last game and then teamed up with McGuire the very next year.
Three seismic events occurred in college basketball in 1981:
President Ronald Reagan was shot before the 1981 national championship game between Indiana and North Carolina, with Packer on the call with McGuire and Enberg.
The technology for live look-ins at the NCAA Tournament was enabled during the 1981 NCAA Tournament. March Madness would never be the same. (March 14, 1981 was the day the instant game-switching feature was pioneered by NBC Sports).
CBS acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament and Final Four from NBC. Packer left McGuire and Enberg for CBS, joining Gary Bender on the call at the 1982 Final Four. The two called their first game as a CBS tandem in late 1981.
In 1985, Brent Musburger replaced Gary Bender as the play-by-play man for CBS at the Final Four, joining Packer for a short but very successful run.
Musburger and Packer called five national championship games from 1985 through 1989 in which the margin of victory was never larger than four points. The margin of victory was no more than two points in three of those five title games.
Musburger learned shortly before the 1990 national championship game between Duke and UNLV that CBS had fired him. There was no announcement made well in advance, and also unlike Jim Nantz — who is staying at CBS to call the Super Bowl and The Masters — Musburger’s parting was bitter and acrimonious. Musburger called the game with Packer, and that was that.
JIM NANTZ AT THE FINAL FOUR
Jim Nantz didn’t do play-by-play at the Final Four in 1986, but he did host the pregame and postgame shows in Dallas. That was Nantz’s first on-air appearance at a Final Four. Nantz joined CBS in 1985 as a college football studio host. College basketball quickly followed. Nantz bided his time in the CBS studio for a few years. His big Final Four breakthrough was still a few years away.
After Brent Musburger was fired by CBS in 1990, Jim Nantz became the play-by-play man at the Final Four. He joined Billy Packer for the 1991 event in Indianapolis. This was the Final Four where Duke upset UNLV in the national semifinals, ruining UNLV’s bid for a perfect season and giving Mike Krzyzewski his first national title two nights later in a victory against Kansas, coached by Roy Williams.
No college basketball team has completed a perfect season since Indiana in 1976.
Why is 1994 significant in charting the career of Jim Nantz at CBS? That was the year Fox took over the NFC NFL package, replacing CBS. NBC was still the AFC network back then. Pat Summerall was the No. 1 NFL voice at CBS and also the lead voice for The Masters. When he left CBS, Nantz — who replaced Brent Musburger at the Final Four three years earlier — became the undisputed No. 1 voice of CBS. Musburger was CBS in the 1980s. Summerall was the face of the network’s sports department for a few years. Then Nantz became the man in 1994.
Even with his decision to step away from the Final Four, Nantz is still the No. 1 NFL and Masters voice, so no one is rising above him at CBS anytime soon.
NANTZ AND PACKER
Jim Nantz and Billy Packer called 18 Final Fours together, the longest run of any national TV announcing pair at the event. The Packer-McGuire-Enberg trio called only four Final Fours. Musburger-Packer called six. The current team of Nantz, Bill Raftery, and Grant Hill have called eight, starting in 2015. They will call a ninth Final Four in Houston in 2023.
Packer called his last Final Four in 2008, when Mario Chalmers hit a late tying 3-pointer to send the Kansas-Memphis national title game into overtime. The Jayhawks then beat John Calipari and the Tigers. Packer’s run of consecutive Final Fours as the national TV color commentator ended at 34 years, one of the great feats in the history of American sports broadcasting.
Clark Kellogg took over for Packer as Nantz’s sidekick at the 2009 Final Four in Detroit.
PACKER'S FINAL FOUR RUN IN CONTEXT
Packer’s 34-year run at the Final Four can be looked at in a number of ways. Consider the following points:
Pat Summerall, another longtime CBS broadcasting fixture, called the first Super Bowl in 1967 and called his last one at Super Bowl XXXVI in 2004, a span of 36 years.
In 1975, Packer’s first Final Four completed an NCAA Tournament which had just 32 teams.
The 1975 college basketball season which began Packer’s run at the Final Four was the last season before Jim Boeheim took over at Syracuse (1975-1976). Boeheim is still coaching the Orange today.
1975 was the year The NFL Today debuted on CBS, launching the TV career of Brent Musburger at CBS. Though Musburger and Packer didn’t call Final Four games together until 1985, they appeared on CBS’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show and other studio shows from 1982-1984 before they became the network’s No. 1 broadcast team.
Jim Nantz, when he ends his run at the Final Four in 2023, will have called 33 straight Final Fours, one short of Packer’s 34.
BIRD AND RAF
When Nantz hands the mic to Ian Eagle, a special moment will occur at the 2024 Final Four.
Ian Eagle and Bill Raftery called their first game together in 1995 as the New Jersey Nets’ TV announcing pair.
It was with Eagle that Raftery first used his signature “ONIONS!” call.
Other Raftery catchphrases were birthed on broadcasts with Eagle at his side.
In 2024, the two men will call the Final Four on national TV. It will be special. Eagle is called “Bird” by Raftery. The two have a very easy conversational rapport, which is why their broadcasts are — and will continue to be — a ton of fun.
SEND IT IN!
Billy Packer’s 34-year run at the Final Four was nearly an even split in terms of his time spent before Jim Nantz and with Jim Nantz: 16 years before Nantz (1975-1990) and 18 years with him (1991-2008).
Nantz’s 33 years as the voice of the Final Four on network TV will eventually end with 18 years alongside Packer (1991-2008) and 15 years after Packer (2009-2023).
Though Nantz will not call the Final Four after 2023, he will still be part of the trophy presentation after the national championship game in 2024.