Brent Musburger was on the phone on Wednesday doing what he does very well: Being optimistic. He was talking up next season's Texas A&M-South Carolina game and explaining how much he's looking forward to an upcoming trip to China with his wife, Arlene. He said he can't wait to travel to Oxford, Miss., one of the few college football hotbeds where Musburger has yet to call a game.
Earlier in the day, official word came down that Musburger will no longer call ABC's Saturday Night Football package or the national title game. Instead, Musburger and Jesse Palmer will serve as the lead broadcast team for the upcoming SEC Network when it launches in August. The new team will debut on Aug. 28 when the Aggies visit the Gamecocks.
"I'm enthused about doing SEC games," Musburger said. "This is not, 'Oh my goodness, I'm not doing the national championship game.' I'm going to spend that night, in fact, with my wife and sons in Montana. We'll sell (betting) squares, and have a great time. I'm in a very good place. I'm an old guy with a three-year contract and I can afford to buy my own beer."
Musburger's new role as the lead football voice of the SEC Network includes 15 regular-season games and a bowl game involving an SEC team that is not tied to the national semifinals. Musburger had the opportunity to call SEC basketball, too, but he felt a level of comfort with Big 12 basketball, his current producer and director, and partners Fran Fraschilla and Holly Rowe. He will remain with that team.
Musburger said he was told that he would not call next season's national championship in the press box prior to the BCS title game in January. ESPN president John Skipper and ESPN executive vice president for programming and production John Wildhack delivered the news.
"When they told me they were going to make a move, they told me in the next sentence that we want you to be the lead play-by-play guy of the SEC Network," Musburger said. "Skipper said, 'Brent, we want to make this happen with the SEC Network.' I told John, joking, that my brother (Todd) is my attorney but I'm the tough guy. We laughed about it but what are you going to do? Todd had said to John a few weeks earlier: 'John, Brent deserves at least to know what direction you are heading in.' So that's how it went down.
"Obviously, I was disappointed I was not going to be doing one of the semifinals and the final. I'm not going to mislead anyone with that and I have told Skipper and Wildhack the same thing. But I also know that was not going to change anything. It was time to take a different challenge and move on. Did I sit around and cry about it? Absolutely not. There's no need for me to look back. I have to look forward."
Musburger said he was enthused by the opportunity to call games for such a passionate fan base, especially given ESPN's commitment to the new network.
"It's the attractiveness of the SEC, the passion, the stadiums and the talent that is down there," Musburger said. "I'm going to be 75 in May. You can take someone who is 75 and tell them, 'Hey, it's been great. You did a terrific job. Thank you very much but we have to move in another direction.' I get that. It happens in corporate life all the time. So if this was a good time for them to take a different direction, they should go for it. I'm delighted to be offered a three-year deal when I am 75 years old. I love going to games, I love the excitement and I want to continue. It is a heck of an opportunity for someone who does not want to play golf every day."
I asked Musburger if he was interested, or had inquired, about who would replace him on broadcasts of ABC's Saturday Night Football and the national championship game, which airs on ESPN. He said he had not. Chris Fowler and Rece Davis are the leading candidates.
"It's either going to be Chris (Fowler) or Rece (Davis)," Musburger said. "But that's one thing I stay away from. They'll make the announcement and I'll see who it is and I will be watching. It isn't like I'm going to turn away from those games. I watch all the great things I've been part of, whether it's airing on CBS or ESPN."