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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Worlds Colliding

If you've been to NightBEAT since it made the move to Winston Salem, you may have noticed a group in the stands or in the lots, usually clad in gold, taking in the show.

They were the Blue and Gold Marching Machine of North Carolina A&T State University, and this year, they'll be part of the show.

A&T sits across the Triad from the show's home at Wake Forest, and boasts the largest, most prominent marching band in the area. They'll be teaming up with the team from Carolina Crown who puts on the event to add value for all attendees, and the Aggies are sure to win some new fans from the drum corps-centric crowd.

Many will note the seeming incongruence of an HBCU band at a DCI show. Frankly, that's the beauty of it. Fans of any facet of the marching arts should be able to enjoy the entertainment that features A&T, 11 World Class corps, and SoundSport program Thunder of Roanoke. And pump the brakes if you're thinking the Aggies are a fish out of water. While unmistakably and undeniably an HBCU band, the Blue and Gold Marching Machine has shown that when they incorporate corps style elements, they're damn good at that too. There's no telling if the Aggies will give you what they do best, or switch their swag up for a feature to show that they can get down whichever way they please.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Searching For an American Hero

While UConn's move to the Big East wasn't driven by football, it won't be without gridiron implications.

For UConn, their football program becomes homeless, as the American Athletic Conference has already made it clear that UConn is not welcome as a football-only member. UConn may find itself in the same boat as its fellow New England flagship, UMass, who has been a Division I Independent since parting ways with the MAC in 2015. Since the MAC is the only other conference that makes geographic sense, there's a good chance UConn remains independent - if they remain FBS at all. UConn made the move to the FBS ranks 20 years ago - ironically, at the behest of the Big East Football Conference - but has an overall program history dating back to the late 19th century. If UConn returned to the championship subdivision, they wouldn't be the only recent program to do so. Idaho made a similar move after the dissolution of the WAC left them homeless, and at that point some wondered if the changing landscape of major college football, including the widening rift between the haves and have nots, would have others follow in their footsteps.

On the other side of the equation, the American is in a position to pick its next move, perhaps with some goading by ESPN. Unlike other defections from what was then the Big East, losing UConn doesn't leave the conference any weaker, and the die has already been cast with regards to access to the sport's power structure. The American has a few options: Stand pat at 11 football members, add a football only member (potentially complementing with a non-football member), or add a new member in all sports.

Keeping 11 members may be the strongest position, provided two things. The first is that their newly negotiated contract with ESPN remains in place for the schools that remain, ensuring each a larger piece of the pie. The second is that the American gets a waiver to host a championship game with fewer than 12 members, though this may simply be a formality. Should the AAC go divisionless, they can choose, as the Big 12 does, to match the two two strongest programs in the championship game, improving the resume of the victor. While this likely still will not result in a playoff berth, it can strengthen the AAC's case in the event they are in contention with any other Group of Five conferences for the New Year's Six spot.

Should the AAC seek to add a football only member, Army is the most viable option, if they'd consider it. Adding Army makes the Army-Navy game a conference matchup, allows the conference to beat its chest about truly being the American, and still operates within some semblance of geography. Air Force further spreads an already geographically expansive conference, and while they have their own planes, that Tampa to Colorado Springs road tilt has to be a doozie. BYU, while the strongest independent option, offers similar geographic challenges, and of course they made the active decision to go independent less than a decade ago. Adding a football-only member also calls the question if they also adda member in all other sports. While the AAC's position of the sixth best conference in football is pretty well cemented, their place in the pecking order in basketball is less firm. A successful basketball pairing would have to make sense for the American while also improving the fortune of the incoming member, something that poaching from the likes of the A-10 wouldn't do. Short of getting a team from the Missouri Valley - Loyola-Chicago's recent Final Four run made noise, but was an outlier - there's nothing that truly fits the bill. Further, I'm hesitant to once again sow the division between basketball schools and football schools that tore apart the old Big East.

If the conference chooses to expand, it will likely have its pick of the remainder of the Group of Five teams. Much as the Big East used Conference USA as a feeder program through a variety of realignments, The American comes from a position of strength over the rest of the non-power leagues, even without access to football's power structure itself. With all due respect to UConn, it wouldn't be difficult to replace them with a program of equal or greater value on the football side of the equation.

My choice - selfish, but also justifiable - would be Appalachian State. To some the move may seem premature. After all, the Mountaineers have spent just a half decade at the FBS level. Still, they bring the distinction of winning at every level, suffering no setback when changing subdivisions and winning the Sun Belt each of the past three years. They also bring a rabid fanbase in North Carolina, and through it the Charlotte media market, as well as a natural rivalry with ECU.

There are a number of other candidates that, for a Conference USA-era USF alumnus, feel like getting the band back together. UAB, Southern Miss, and Charlotte (this time with football) would all rejoin former conferencemates USF, Cincinnati, Houston, and Memphis, and Tulane, as well as UCF, Tulsa, and SMU from the conference's life immediately following. A couple of other current Conference USA members, notably UTSA, ODU, and the aforementioned Charlotte, have programs that are less than a decade old.

Losing its northernmost outlier tightens the conference up just a bit, keeping each of its teams at or below the 40th parallel. Still, if the American, which is also moving league offices from Providence to Dallas, wishes to maintain a New England outpost, UMass may be worth a phone call. The Minutemen rebuffed an "all in or all out" offer from the MAC to keep its other sports in the Atlantic 10, The American may offer a profile in all sports that meets their needs a bit more. The Minutemen would also bring with them the only Sudler Trophy in FBS outside of the Power Five leagues. Filling out an independent schedule for a number of years may make them long for the stability of conference affiliation, but it will also mean quite a few contracts to get out of in coming years.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

UConn Go Home Again

There's no place like home.

The University of Connecticut recently announced they will be rejoining the Big East, a league they were a charter member of in 1979. When conference realignment tore the conference as we knew it asunder, UConn and the other football playing members splintered off in to what is now known as the American Athletic Conference, while the private, Catholic, basketball schools without FBS football retained the Big East name and forged forth a new path, picking up a few programs along the way.

This development is just the latest in the ongoing conference realignment saga, but it differs from previous moves significantly in that it is not driven by major college football or by media markets. To the latter, Hartford-New Haven ranks #33, a paltry addition to a conference that already boasts the top four markets east of the Mississippi in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. To the former, the Big East doesn't field football, leaving UConn's future football conference - even subdivision - uncertain.

To be clear, the return to the Big East isn't all wistful nostalgia for UConn. While they'll return to familiarity, it's a shrewd business move that brings them literally closer to home, with a critical mass of schools in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. The expanded Big East will involve conference games as far west as Creighton, but the American's geographic footprint, with outposts in Tampa, Tulsa, and Houston, was far more daunting. They'll return to at least some of their traditional rivalries, rather than manufactured trophy games with C. Florida. Men's hoops will return to the venerated Madison Square Garden, and women's hoops might at least get some competition rather than a league in which they've never suffered a loss in six years.

UConn will be the odd school out - the only public school in the bunch, and one of only two non-Catholic institutions. It's also the only school with the major college football albatross to account for, but that's their problem, not the Big East's. Frankly, the conference has proven it gets along just fine without the F word wagging the dog, and UConn, with the acceptance of membership, has nodded assent.

So with all due respect to another place where basketball drives the bus, This time it's UConn saying there's no place like home.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

This Is My Fight Song

Sometimes, you get to celebrate America as you celebrate America.

This week offered a Women's World Cup match (and victory, fittingly, over England) just days before the Fourth of July. Watching the game - and naturally, imagining marching bands in that context - got me thinking: Which of our national songs are analogous to school spirit songs?

I first shied away from the Star Spangled Banner as our fight song, mostly because its time signature makes it difficult to march or clap along to. But beyond that, in form and function, as much as I wanted to give the gig to Stars and Stripes Forever, the Anthem is it.

Our alma mater? America the Beautiful. It extols the beauty of our "campus," uses its thees and thys in all the right places, and borrowed its tune from an older hymn.

And don't worry, there's still a home for our national march. Stars and Stripes Forever can occupy that secondary fight song/spirit song spot like NC State's Red and White or Georgia Tech's Up with the White and Gold.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Home Team

This August, I'm headed up to Pittsburgh for Fresh Fest Beer Fest, the nation's first and only Black beer festival. Since making the commitment to go, I've been planning the trip and getting a general sense of Pittsburgh. From a sports standpoint, I'll be headed to a Steelers preseason game, as well as touring the Pirates' PNC Park. I've also considered a way to pay homage to the local streets without perping.

The trouble is, I don't mess with Pittsburgh like that.

I mean, all indications are that it's a city I will thoroughly enjoy. I've long thought that geographically and topographically, it's a city with a lot to like. I've only been once before, a trip during college where I spent precious little time outside of the hotel or the recital hall. But my ties to metro Philly, metro Baltimore, and even USF (former conference rival of the Pitt Panthers) have made it a city a generally disregard a good deal of the time.

My solution? Rep for the Pittsburgh Crawfords.

The Pittsburgh Crawfords were one of a number of  Negro League teams that called the Pittsburgh area home. They played in Pittsburgh from 1931-38, and had lineups that included quite a few Hall of Famers, including some of the most well known Negro League players, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Cool Papa Bell.

They also boasted William Julius "Judy" Johnson.

Judy Johnson grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, not unlike Yours Truly. When Minor League Baseball returned to Wilmington in the form of the Wilmington Blue Rocks in 1993, the field was named for Johnson. Johnson also spent part of his career with the Homestead Grays, perhaps a bit more of a Negro League household name, but he spent the bulk of his Western PA stint with the Crawfords. So when I rep for the "home team" in Pittsburgh, I'll be doing so on my terms.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Logo à Gogo

Courtesy of The Daily Stampede
The last year has been rebrand season at each of the universities I'm associated with. Both alma maters and my employer went through some sort of brand update, to either the athletic logo, institutional logo, or both, to varying success.

First my graduate alma mater, USF. I've already given both its original ill conception and its eventual coup de grace considerable time here, so no need to rehash that.

Thank U, next.

UNCG has new looks with both the institutional logo and the athletic/spirit logo. Full disclosure: I like the change quite a bit, and if I didn't, I'd probably keep my mouth shut - can't bite the hand that feeds me.

The institutional look has been termed a "brand refresh," and still features the tried and true Minerva shield. The colors have updated - slight changes to the shades of blue and gold used, and gray added - and the text emphasized the G, as it does in the athletic logo.

The athletic logo's new look Spartan is a fierce upgrade from an already strong look with the now retired rising shield. My favorite of the secondary marks is the G Spear. While it's not a standalone logo, it again emphasizes the primary logo with a spear that is unmistakably Spartan - the classical accuracy to include the sauroter on the back end of the spear is much appreciated attention to detail.

And then there's alma mater #1. They're not changing the athletic logo - that took place nearly a decade ago.  It's the institutional logo that got an update, and I love it. I was clued in to the coming change back in September, when I got to participate in a survey that presented two options. Of these, my preferred option incorporated the Calvert (black and gold) portion of the flag, rotated 90 degrees (which left me vexillologically vexed, as that's now how it would present on a properly hung flag) on an escutcheon like the one seen here. The end result was far better than I could have expected.

The UMBC wordmark has been a mainstay for decades; it's the shield that's being added. Having used only the Calvert portion as in the survey, they would have been at once right and wrong. On the one hand, our colors are black and gold, so it makes sense. That peeloff has been used plenty, including the Retriever Nation and Lot 17 (soccer supporters club) logos. I fly a Calvert flag at my tailgates these days. It's the primary element in the Baltimore flag, which is where things get interesting - UMBC's not located in Baltimore. In using both the Calvert and Crossland colors, they asserted our importance to the state, and reinforce at least the "M" for those who may not immediately recognize the acronym, even after March 16, 2018. It's even blazonable: An escutcheon, fimbriated cendrée and sable, the arms of Calvert and Crossland dimidiated. UMBC's got a great new look.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Raise a Glass

Two of the larger names in craft beer are joining forces.

Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) and Dogfish Head announced late last week that they will be merging. The two breweries were the second and thirteenth, respectively, in terms of craft brewery sales in 2018, and their merging represents a sizable shift in craft beer.

True enough, my first thoughts on the merger came not as a craft beer drinker, but as a Delawarean. We're a bit territorial when it comes to our native son Dogfish Head, and while both sides describe the move as a merger, my big-bank-take-little-bank lens immediately saw this as Boston Beer Company acquiring Dogfish Head, and feared the disappearance of at least the name of a chiefly Delaware brand, as when Walgreen's acquired Happy Harry's or Bank of America acquired MBNA. From a sports perspective, the prospect of losing our identity to a New England-based company particularly stung. Thankfully, it doesn't look like the brand is going anywhere.

Sam Adams has long been among the most macro of the micros and the big dog in the craft brewing room. Still, they've maintained their commitment to independence, and where some others are instead selling to major breweries like Budweiser's AB InBev, Boston Beer Company and Samuel Adams instead opted for this strategic alliance. They aren't the first to do this - notably, Artisanal Brewing Ventures was born of Victory and Southern Tier, and has since acquired Sixpoint - but certainly this merger is a big deal. I've even seen some call one or both parties sellouts, which doesn't make a bit of sense to me. Craft beer has long embodied a "we all we got" ethos, and any attempt at Voltron between companies is simply to continue to stake that claim. As the companies note in the press release, they still make up less than 2% of the national beer market, and craft beer in its totality only makes up about 11%. This move isn't knocking down the Buds and Millers of the world anytime soon, but it's keeping both brands in the game.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Only U

Ding Dong, the Lynch is dead.

Which old Lynch? The Merrill Lynch.

The much maligned USF institutional logo, featuring a reasonable facsimile of the Merrill Lynch logo will die at cock's crow on Monday. (or, yanno, probably sometime during the workday). Its replacement will be the athletic logo, the Iconic U, which will now pull double duty and represent the university in its entirety.

Daily Stampeder emeritus Collin can tell you about it better than I can.

In the end, we, the alumni, fans, and supporters, were bullish on the Merrill Lynch Lookin' Ass logo's departure, and for all of the digging in of heels the university did, eventually, we were heard.

I'd like to think I did my part.

Friday, May 3, 2019

I'ma Let You Finish

Taylor Swift is an inspiration.

I've been without a charger for my laptop since leaving it in Columbus in later January. I hadn't yet replaced it, and pieced together my non-work computer time with my phone and occasional library trips. I had made the loose commitment to go by the Apple store for a new charger "some time in the next week."

After seeing Taylor Swift's Billboard Music Awards performance and the dragging that ensued, I made time to get it today.

I've got to tell you this story before I tell you the main one: Of late, I catch most zeitgeists late. Blame the kids, blame the schedule, blame the priorities, but if it's hot and you're talking about it, I probably haven't seen it yet. But like getting a charger to write this here, I made time for Beyonce's Homecoming. I'm not Hive, but her steadfast commitment to the HBCU band vibe made it must-watch TV for me. Indeed, I started watching the day it dropped, and finished over the weekend. It was for that reason I had full context when Taylor bust on the scene.

There's no two ways about it: Taylor's performance was reminiscent - nay, derivative - of Beyonce's. Her intro, from the whistle blasts, drumline, and opening pose to the use of pink (a muted baby pink to Beyonce's Bret Hart hot pink), anyone who had seen Homecoming not two weeks prior would have made the same inference. Some speculated that was the point - after all, Taylor's performance has been the talk of the day in a way it may not otherwise have been - but the reviews have been less than kind. She's been dragged all up and down social media, with folks referencing her unseasoned, Great Value brand of Coachella, or as it trended on Twitter, Mayochella. True enough, Beyonce's not the first artist to incorporate a marching band, but when it's done so high profile and so recently, it's hard not to notice. And perhaps most egregious of the rip was the undercard of the drumline present at Taylor's performance: They weren't that good.

Other than the swaggerjack, there were other elements at play. First, Beyonce curated an HBCU marching band for her performance that was able to co-create the experience with her. In contrast, Taylor opted for what was functionally percussive set design - window dressing for her performance in the form of System Blue, the drums-for-hire arm of 18 time DCI World Champion Blue Devils.

Eighteen championships. I only bring their Bama-like pedigree into the discussion because it seems to defy my earlier point: They weren't that good. The lack of precision from a unit associated with a four-time Fred Sanford High Percussion award-winning corps brings to light a cultural disconnect. To observe the players in action, it was likely they were given a stage direction like "have fun!" or "get funky!" For whatever reason, the moment they got loose, all precision went out the window, a fatal flaw. Fun is not the opposite of discipline. Let's jump back to Beyonce, and in the larger vein HBCU bands. Her squad clearly had an amazing time, and performed at a high level. But to equate having fun with lack of discipline hardwires other false dichotomies that manifest as prejudice and discrimination in the marching band world.

If you accept the parsimonious narrative, System Blue wasn't just told to get funky. They were told to emulate an HBCU band. That doing such would cause them to throw their chops out the window is troubling, but unsurprising. The belief that HBCU bands are primitive is an old trope that persists despite evidence to the contrary. Corps style bands have long looked down their nose at show style bands, even as they've tried their best to bite elements since, say, late 2002 or so. But the only judge that matters is the audience, and consensus is T Swizzle got cranked on.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Virginia Should Not Call In Vain

I don't know what Ryan Odom's vice of choice is, but I hope Tony Bennett bought him an extra large.

The Virginia Cavaliers men's basketball team entered the sports pantheon as the 2019 national champions. It was 388 days prior they made a different kind of history: Being the first 1 seed to fall to a 16 seed in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It's no stretch so say the two are related.

Bennett and his team spent the entire season fielding questions about the UMBC loss. The four letters rang out as chants in rival arenas. And though UVA ultimately won the title. event trailing in the first round against Gardner-Webb elicited a touch of fear in the Wahoo faithful.

A redemption story needs something from which to redeem, and last year's loss provided that spark. Few doubted Bennett's coaching acumen, but the fact that he had yet to make a Final Four was a glaring omission on his resume. After the loss, there were louder-than-whispers that for all of his talent, he was prone to underachieving. It's well documented that Tony Bennett is a Rocky fan, and it wouldn't suprise me if he saw shades of the pugilist's path in his own squad.

Some may think I'm hitching UMBC to UVA's coattails. Quite the opposite - I'm simply taking credit for the assist. When the inevitable 30 for 30 or documentary comes out, just be sure it starts on March 16, 2018.
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