Brett McMurphy joined ESPN in 2012 as a college football insider covering and reporting on the national level. Prior to ESPN, McMurphy worked at CBSSports.com, AOL FanHouse and 22 years at the Tampa Tribune.
He comes to ESPN with a strong college football background that includes being nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in the breaking news category after uncovering a story about a college football coach who struck a player, lied about it, covered it up and tampered with witnesses in the school’s investigation. McMurphy received seven best writing awards from the Football Writers Association of America between 2003 and 2010.
McMurphy took a few minutes to talk about his new position at ESPN, the future of college football and what drives him to find to find breaking news.
You tweeted excitement to be joining ESPN, was there a particular reason you wanted to be here?
Having covered college athletics for 20-plus years, ESPN is known as the Worldwide Leader and for good reason. The brand is incredibly strong and it’s always been a goal of mine to work with the best. That’s what I have a chance to do at ESPN.
What will your responsibilities be at ESPN?
My “role” is a college football insider for ESPN. I’ll do a little bit of everything from College Football Live to SportsCenter and even some work this weekend as a sideline reporter for ESPN radio for Hawaii at USC. When I was hired, I was told the job would be “everything and anything.” I think that sums it up pretty well.
There is more on-air work here than previous jobs, are you nervous about it?
My background has been mainly print and online, so this is definitely a new challenge. I’m eager to make the transition to television and getting to work with all of the unbelievable talent they have here at ESPN.
What drives you to break news?
Without question what’s most important to me as a journalist is accuracy. I strive to be accurate on every single story and I don’t think any legit journalist can strive for anything less than 100 percent accuracy. I see absolutely no value in being ‘first’ with the news, if you’re wrong. You destroy your credibility – or what’s left of it. I strive to be accurate first and then if I’m able to also break the news, that’s even better. I’ve been fortunate enough to break a number of stories in college football and basketball the past few years, but I take even greater pride in my accuracy.
Give us a storyline or two you look forward to covering this year?
Stop me if you’ve heard this, but can the SEC win another national championship? And yes, they can. I’m also interested in seeing if USC can stop the streak and eager to see who emerges out of the Pac-12 between USC and Oregon. I think Arkansas will be a fascinating team to watch this year. Coach John L. Smith has nothing to lose – and, by the way, he also has an incredibly talented team. With a nine-month contract he can afford to take some chances other coaches might not. Also, I want to see if Florida State can finally live up to its talent. Not its hype, but its ‘talent.’ They’ve been picked by some to win the national title, but can FSU at least win the ACC this year?”
What was one of the harder stories to cover this past year?
The unbelievable situation at Penn State. I covered the first game after the allegations went public – Nebraska at Penn State. That was just a surreal setting. Before the game, I talked to a man who held up a sign that read: The World Is A Dangerous Place Not Because Of Those Who Do Evil But Because Of Those Who Look On And Do Nothing by Albert Einstein. That wasn’t your normal pregame atmosphere. And then before kickoff, both teams walked to midfield and took a knee for a moment of silence that lasted about a minute. More than 100,000 totally silent – it was incredible. After the game, I remember walking to my car and seeing dozens of fans posing for pictures by Paterno’s statue.
What is your pick for the BCS title game this year?
I realize it’s cool to go with a trendy or obscure national title pick, but it’s also smarter not to go against a streak. The SEC has won six in a row and I think they’ll make it seven. Which team, though, I’m not sure, but I’ll take the SEC champion – Alabama, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina or Florida – over Oregon for the BCS title.
Look in your crystal ball and tell us how college football will look in five years?
I love college football, but I’m afraid all of the conference realignment is ultimately going to be bad for the sport. Maybe it won’t occur for five or 10 years, but it will. Anytime you lose rivalries such as Texas-Texas A&M, West Virginia-Pitt, Kansas-Missouri, etc., there is absolutely no way that is good for college athletics. Not only that, but the WAC is a casualty of conference realignment. The top three reasons for all of the moves were money, money and money. I think the moves will make for better TV games and more television inventory, but ultimately I think it will be a huge strain on college football fans having to travel halfway (or all the way) across the country to follow their school(s). I do think the playoff, which starts after the 2014 season, will be a huge, huge success. But again, a big concern is the amount of travel fans may be required to make.