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Q&A with Brett McMurphy of CBS Sports

In a college sports environment that has seen a boom in conference realignment action, there may be no busier journalist than CBS Sports’ own Brett McMurphy. A Tampa native, McMurphy spent 22 years with the Tampa Tribune before moving on to cover college football and basketball for AOL FanHouse. At FanHouse, McMurphy was 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, which was prompted by McMurphy’s reporting. Ram fans however are probably more familiar with McMurphy’s recent work, as he was the first to report VCU, along with Butler and George Mason were in talks with the Atlantic 10 to join the conference. McMurphy recently took time out from his busy schedule to answer a few questions for VCURamNation.com.

VRN: A lot of people know you for your news breaking tweets about college realignment, but what they don’t know is you’ve actually been nominated for a Pulitzer in that category (breaking news, not Tweets). How great of an honor was that for you?

McMurphy: “That was certainly unexpected. I never could have envisioned when I first got the tip that former USF coach Jim Leavitt hit a player in the locker room during a game that it would mushroom into what it did. It was never my intention for anyone to lose their job, but because of Leavitt’s actions first in the locker room and then his lies during the investigation and tampering with witnesses, the school had no choice. Reporting that story also was unlike any other I’ve experienced because instead of other media outlets “confirming” my story after I initially broke it – which is commonplace now – all of the follow up local and national media reported my story was inaccurate and false. This went on for a month until the school concluded its investigation – launched by my initial report – and the school concluded what I reported was accurate.”

VRN: You’ve been covering college sports for just around 20 years now, have you ever seen a more volatile environment with all the recent realignment?

McMurphy: “Nothing even close. Teams are changing conferences these days like some people change socks. And, surprise, it’s about money.”

VRN: You recently Broke the news of the Atlantic 10 potentially adding Butler, VCU and Mason. One down, two to go…do you have any updates on the remaining two?

McMurphy: “I reported two months ago those three schools were in discussions with the A-10 to join the league. I thought it was comical how the next day or so VCU and Mason issued statements that they had not “accepted an offer” or “received an offer” to join the A-10. I never reported that. Of course, they didn’t have a “formal” offer, they were still in the kicking tires stage. Then soon after that the CAA held a teleconference to dispute my report and said there was no truth to it. Obviously my report was accurate. Butler is gone to the A-10 and VCU, Mason may not be far behind. Ironically on Thursday, Tom Yeager is quoted by the Richmond Times Dispatch saying: “I’d love to know, but I’m not going to call them every 10 minutes and say, ‘Have you made your mind up yet?” Huh? Yeager said in the teleconference my story was inaccurate – he also texted me saying the same thing – but now he’s quoted wondering if those schools have made up their mind on if they’re staying or leaving?”

VRN: How do you think the recent Big East news effects potential A10 realignment?

McMurphy: “I really don’t. I’ve read the speculation about the Big East basketball schools breaking away from football. I realize the basketball schools don’t like the new make up of the league, but the reality is those schools are worth more when they’re in a FBS football league. I seriously doubt they will break away – unless they want to make a lot less money in their media rights deal as a basketball only league.”

VRN: Do you think Big East basketball teams will ever break away and form their own conference?

McMurphy: “Ever is a long time. Anything is possible, but not in the near future. It just doesn’t make financial sense.”

VRN: You’re definitely someone who has embraced social media, approaching 20,000 Twitter followers. How do you think the social media revolution has benefited journalism, and what challenges do you think it’s also presented?

McMurphy: “And I remember the good old days when I only had 1,000 followers. I realize that what is put on Twitter can be interpreted as news, so I try – emphasis the word try – not to speculate on teams leaving conferences or coaches getting fired. Because someone can take it as a “report,” that I’m reporting Team X is going to Conference Y or Coach A will be fired. I do try to have fun, though, and make probably too many attempts at humor. Hopefully my average for my entertaining one-liners is north of the Mendoza line.”

VRN: Favorite thing about covering college sports?

McMurphy: “My favorite thing is what I get to spend the least time doing – actually covering and reporting on the games, players and events. Hopefully all the off the field news, tragedies, scandals, etc., that plagued college football the past two years can subside in 2012, so the focus can go back to the players and teams for their on-field accomplishments.”

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