USC complains Musburger gave away team sign

Updated: September 20, 2006, 6:44 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

LOS ANGELES -- Southern California formally complained that ABC-TV's Brent Musburger revealed privileged information in play-by-play commentary during Saturday's game against Nebraska.

The university sent a letter to ESPN, which oversees sports programming on ABC, saying Musburger, with less than 10 minutes to play and the Trojans leading 21-10, began describing how USC quarterback John David Booty lets receivers know he has spotted a certain kind of coverage.

DP Show: Musburger's take
ABC-TV's Brent Musburger defends accusations that he shared privileged information during Saturday's USC-Nebraska football game.

Musburger explains on The Dan Patrick Show how he prepares for games and shares his conversation with Trojans quarterback John David Booty. Listen Insider

"John David told us that his signal when he finds one-on-one and they're coming, it's that 'hang loose,' that familiar sign you've seen surfers use," said Musburger, referring to the sign where the thumb and little finger are raised.

USC sports information director Tim Tessalone sent a formal complaint to ESPN/ABC game producer Bill Bonnell on Monday and sent a copy to the Pacific-10 conference office.

In a letter to ESPN, USC said it considered the discussion private and background-only in nature.

"We're supposed to be partners in this, but this is certainly going to make us think twice about trying to help them have as good a broadcast as possible," Tessalone said. "What he did was unconscionable."

Last Friday, announcers and producers met with coaches and star players as part of their game preparation. During the meeting, there was discussion about how a replay of the Ohio State-Texas broadcast showed Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith tapping the top of his helmet to let receiver Ted Ginn Jr. know he's noticed one-on-one coverage.

Booty was asked if Southern California had a similar signal, and Booty told Musburger about his "hang loose" signal.

"We are very mindful of what we learn in pre-game meetings in terms in what is appropriate for broadcast and what is for our background. We're sorry this led to an unfortunate misunderstanding, which was never our intention," ESPN said in a statement released by spokesman Josh Krulewitz.

Musburger, through an ESPN spokesman, said: "We've explained to USC that during our pregame meeting we discussed how we used replays to illustrate a specific signal the week before in the Ohio State-Texas telecast. In that context, we asked if USC has a similar way of communicating and the specific signal was offered.

"Clearly, there is a misunderstanding of our intentions, and we regret the confusion. We look forward to working with USC on future telecasts as we continue to cover [its] great program."

Asked about Musburger's on-air revelations, USC coach Pete Carroll said with a laugh, "Just wondering what they're going to tell us next. I'm not worried about it. There's a million signals, a million ways to do it."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.