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September 19, 2006
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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 his receivers know he has spotted a certain kind of coverage.
"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.
Announcers and producers met with coaches and star players Friday as part of their game preparation, and Booty's signaling was discussed in what was described as private, background-only talk.
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.
"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.
"In my 28 years, I've never seen such an egregious breach of trust. Brent is not a rookie at this, and he should know better."
During the meeting, there was discussion about how a replay of the Ohio State-Texas broadcast on Sept. 9 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 said in a statement late Monday that the network regretted the confusion.
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."
For more coverage of the Southern Cal Trojans, check out USCFootball.com.