Behind the Mic: ESPN Re-Ups Vital and Bilas, Adds Calhoun and Others for College Hoops Tip-Off

ESPN solidified its college basketball on-air roster in advance of season tip-off this year, inking Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas to extensions and adding former big-name college coaches Jim Calhoun, Stan Heath and Craig Robinson to the mix.

Vitale’s new contract extension will keep him at ESPN through 2016-17. Vitale will call some of the season’s top games across ESPN networks, including regular-season action primarily on ESPN and ESPN2 and the Men’s Final Four for ESPN International. Vitale joined ESPN during the 1979-80 season — just after the network’s September 1979 launch — following a successful coaching career.

Bilas, meanwhile, has agreed to an extension with ESPN through the 2022-23 men’s college basketball season. Bilas, who is featured on ESPN’s game and studio coverage, will call top men’s college basketball games involving the nation’s marquee teams and conferences and will be present at the Men’s Final Four through studio coverage, as well as game telecasts on ESPN International. Saturday’s will be busy for Bilas as he will add ESPN’s Saturday Primetime Presented by DIRECTV game-of-the-week assignment to his analyst role on the popular Saturday morning and evening college basketball program, College GameDay Covered by State Farm. Bilas will contribute to several ESPN platforms, including ESPN.com and SportsCenter. His extension will keep him on ESPN’s coverage of the NBA Draft, where he has been providing in-depth player scouting and analysis since 2003. Bilas joined ESPN in the 1994-95 college basketball season as a game and studio color commentator.

Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Coach Calhoun, who led the University of Connecticut to three NCAA National Championships (1999, 2004, 2011), has joined ESPN as a men’s college basketball analyst. Calhoun will provide expert insight and analysis across ESPN, including studio programming, joining select game telecasts and conducting sit-down interviews with top figures in the game. Calhoun, along will new college basketball analyst Shane Battier, will first appear on the network from the State Farm Champions Classic – the early-season, neutral-site men’s doubleheader to be played Tuesday, Nov. 18, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Heath and Robinson will call game telecasts on ESPNU, in addition to providing insight and analysis on the 24-hour college sports network’s studio programming. The pair will debut during the annual College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon. Heath will be the analyst on the Miami (Fla.) at preseason-ranked No. 9 Florida on Monday, Nov. 17, at 9 p.m. on ESPNU and Robinson will call the Iona at Wofford matchup on Tuesday, Nov. 18, at 7 a.m. on ESPN2.

An outstanding recruiter throughout his career, Heath’s signing classes gained national recognition by national media outlets ranking his efforts among the top 15 in 2003, 2004 and 2006. In his nine years (Arkansas, Kent State and USF) as a head coach, he directed a total of nine players to all-league accolades and his rosters featured a pair of freshman All-Americans, two conference defensive players of the year, one sixth man of the year and two NBA players, including one lottery pick.

Robinson recently spent six seasons at Oregon State University, making him the fourth-winningest coach in school history (94 wins). Prior to his time in Corvallis, Robinson spent two seasons at Brown University (2006-08), where he compiled a 30-28 record, and in his first year was named Ivy League Coach of the Year by Basketball U.  He also spent time as an assistant at Northwestern University (2000-06) and Illinois Institute of Technology (1988-1990), as well as head coach at Chicago Laboratory Schools (1999-00)…

…Bob McKenzie, the longtime TSN Hockey Insider with more than 35 years of reporting experience, is joining NBC Sports Group’s NHL coverage. McKenzie will appear regularly across NBC and NBCSN throughout the NHL regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs. He will be an in-studio contributor to NBCSN’s Wednesday Night Rivalry telecasts, beginning tonight, and will provide on-site commentary at NHL All-Star Weekend, the Stanley Cup Final, and NHL Draft. Dreger will serve in a similar role, but less frequently. McKenzie, who made appearances via satellite on NBCSN last season, comes to NBC Sports Group with extensive NHL reporting experience in television and print media. McKenzie has spent more than 25 years as the top hockey analyst for TSN in Canada, where he appears regularly on the network’s hockey studio coverage, and writes the Hockey Insider column on TSN.ca, Canada’s leading sports website…

… Longtime NASCAR on FOX on-air personality Steve Byrnes is taking an indefinite medical leave of absence, effectively immediately, to focus on his health after receiving news he has suffered a recurrence of cancer. Byrnes, who was diagnosed and successfully treated for head-and-neck cancer in late 2013, steps away from his NASCAR Race Hub co-hosting and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series play-by-play duties for FOX Sports 1 to concentrate on his upcoming medical treatment and time with his family.