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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Conference Chestthumping

I've never really been a conference homer.

Much.

OK, I'll admit: In the days of the old Big East, there was a good deal of pride associated with conference wins. But times were different then. The Big East was perceived, rightfully so, as the sixth of the six power conferences in college football, a sport where more than any other, perception is reality. It made sense to stand tall behind our conference, even though it was a conference any of us would have left in a Madison Square Garden minute if the right suitor - any suitor - would have come calling.

Once the old Big East crumbled and the American rose from its ashes, the die was cast. No amount of conference pride is going to put it among the elites. There was not the same survivalist instinct to root for the collection of schools flying the new banner. And yet somehow, I found myself in Connecticut's corner tonight. There's a new type of conference pride. It's not the "we all we got" mantra that propeled us along as the Big East. This is one of solidarity. Solidarity for those who also missed the lifeboat and remain marooned on the island of misfit toys. Those who were told, implicitly or explicitly, that we didn't belong - for a host of reasons - in one of the power conference. UConn's chip has to be particularly large; they saw the slot that they believed was theirs filled by a team that resides far from the Atlantic coast, a team that I'm sure they couldn't help but noticed exited this same tournament two rounds ago. If UConn, not Louisville, had gotten the call, I'm sure tonight wouldn't have meant much to me, but we now find ourselves brothers in the struggle. To that end, perhaps a fellow USF fan put it best:



For those keeping score at home: In its first year, The American has a BCS bowl win, a men's basketball national championship, will play for a women's basketball championship tomorrow, and in my line of work, I'll throw in UCF's WGI guard Independent Open Class championship and USF's appearance in Independent World finals.

There are those who chant their conference name as they assert their dominance. I only ask that you oblige me as we merely assert our presence.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

80 Minutes Extra: 2014 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament

For more information than you require: I actually didn't think I had all of these. I made it a point to get at least one video of each of the pep bands present. At some point - as misfortune would have it, just as I was hitting record on Hampton playing Happy - my sim card filled up and I had to move some things around to get the rest. Later that day, I thought somehow I had missed recording the bands of the second game. Turns out my phone has started a new camera file, so I came back across them earlier today. Here they are!

Michigan State:


Hampton:


UT Martin:


North Carolina:

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Where Brooklyn At?

In a move that surprises no one who's been staying abreast of the situation, the ACC has announce that its men's basketball tournament will head to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for 2017 and 2018.

The ACC has had its eyes on the New York market since its most recent addition of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame gave the conference a northern tilt (while in actuality moving the midpoint less than 100 miles from just south of the ACC's Greensboro home to just north of it). Most envisioned it taking Manhattan by way is Madison Square Garden - it still may, eventually - but apparently the now-neutered Big East has an ironclad contract through 2026.

Some speculated that accepting the Brooklyn site would be second class for the "best conference in the history of the game," but I disagree. If anything, it helps solidify the arena in Brooklyn as a major player, and perhaps even paint the almighty Garden as passé. One could argue that the Atlantic 10, whose tournament makes its home at Barclays now, is already an upgrade from the current iteration of the Big East, and the ACC will remove any doubt that the superior tournament is across the Brooklyn Bridge.

For the ACC, this is a power move, and if that were where my primary interest lied, I'd applaud it. But in the grand equation of the ACC men's basketball tournament, I side, selfishly, with Greensboro. I'm certain now it'll be away from Greensboro more often than not; perhaps the home of the league will get it every five years like Indianapolis gets with the NCAA Tournament, but the ACC's bound for the bright lights of the big city.

Monday, March 24, 2014

ACChadenfreude

I've described my relationship with the ACC before as "it's complicated". On the one hand, my primary relationship with big time college basketball comes by way of the Maryland Terrapins (who, admittedly, may describe their relationship the same way) and I now live in a state that lives and breathes ACC basketball and a city that hosts the league offices and basketball tournaments. On the other hand, the ACC was one of the chief opportunists that helped tear the Big East asunder, a move which led to their ultimate demotion, along with my alma mater, USF, from the ranks of major college football. They were intimately involved in fundamentally altering and ultimately killing a premier basketball conference and then cannibalizing its remains. So while I have a relationship with the product that has emerged, it's not without lamenting the loss of the product that once was.

After the latest round of realignment, Duke men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski stated that the new entity is "the best conference in the history of the game." After the first weekend of the 2014 tournament, how's that working out for you?

I've joked before that when the Big East was a 16 team league, putting teams into the tournament was like trying to fertilize an egg - many teams would go in in the hopes that one would make it. This year's ACC resembled precisely that: Of the six teams that entered the tournament - no, ACC, you don't get to count Louisville yet - only one will play in the second weekend. The rest will watch from home. Were it not for Virginia, the ACC would be without a team in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1979. The state of North Carolina is without a Sweet 16 team for the first time since the same year, a year in which, ironically, Greensboro hosted a regional.

In other coincidence, know what else happened in 1979? Both ESPN and the Big East came into being.

Band Trip

UT Martin's band was this session's unknown quantity,
but they did not disappoint.
Crisis averted.

I don't think I realized how badly I needed my annual pep band fix until I ran the risk of not having it. For each of the past two years, I had taken to the road for a multi-pep-band (and basketball, sure) trip. Last year, it was points north for my Basketbinge; two years ago, I headed west for the SoCon basketball tournament. Add to those a mix of ACC men's and women's tournament action at home in Greensboro, and it had become an annual tradition, and I would have gone without this year if it were not for NCAA women's basketball tournament action in Chapel Hill.

I usually say - mostly truthfully - that basketball-pep band is a 50/50 proposition for me; that is, I'm there as much for the hoops as for the horns. That's pretty close to accurate when it comes to men's basketball, but on the women's side, I skew more heavily in favor of the pep band. That's out of no slight to the women, I simply don't follow women's basketball as a sport quite as much as I do the men's game, or pep bands. So while I was ultimately treated to some great hoops action, let's call a spade a spade. This one was for the bands.

I arrived in Chapel Hill right around the start of the day's first matchup, 12 seed Hampton vs. 5 Michigan State. I was already excited for the MEAC-Big Ten matchup, and it didn't disappoint.

I've run the twitrospective for previous live events; here it is again, this time via Storify:



Some time after I shifted focus to the event at hand, UNC snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, ultimately advancing to the round of 32, back on their home court on Tuesday.

If I may go off topic for a second: I saw some folks feel some type of way that those of us in Carmichael for the game were not alerted to the lockdown. I was there, and I'm perfectly fine with that fact. I look at it like Men in Black:
Edwards: Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it. 
Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.
There were certainly any number of "persons" who knew what was going on. Presumably, students an those officially affiliated with campus had received some form of alert. Others, like myself, saw via social media. The situation was under control; the building was locked down, and any individual person who headed for the exit would have learned. There was no need to tell the "people" as a whole. And not to make light of the situation, but I have since learned that the armed individual was brandishing a knife, which makes is a far difference situation than, say, an active shooter.

Back to the bands: I'm damn glad I made the trip - the possibility of missing out was getting to be too much for me. I won't make the mistake of putting myself in that position again. In fact, I may look to overload next year. In addition to any possible trips, Greensboro hosts the ACC men's and women's tournaments AND a NCAA women's tournament regional. And if I choose to step outside my own city, the women's tournament format makes a good case for action in Durham and Chapel Hill again, and there's early round men's tournament action not far away in Charlotte. Next year, I will get my fix.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Pep In My Step

Uh, Aggies? We though you were bringing the PEP band!
Every year, I fall in love again.

Some time after the bright lights of football have faded and the spats and bibbers have been hung up, I immerse myself in another season, already in progress.

Pep band season.

While 80 Minutes' rudiments are deeply rooted in marching band, I actually spent more time as a member of a pep band than I did in marching band. And while I'll confess it, like basketball, doesn't stay on my mind year round, when I fall, I fall HARD.

I live in Greensboro, NC, which has proclaimed itself Tournament Town and is home to both the ACC women's tournament, and, at least for the next year, the ACC men's tournament. For a bit, I had a fear - even convinced myself it would be justified - that with the tournament now accommodating 15 teams and spreading an extra day, team may not send their pep bands for opening day action. Luckily, that fear went unfounded, but instead it was I who was un able to make it to game action in the Greensboro Coliseum.

If last year ended in a Basketbinge, surely this year has been a relative basketfamine. My season tickets at UNCG men's hoops all but amounted to a donation to the athletic department, and I missed both ACC tournaments in my city. Lucky for me, action hasn't completely left my region yet, and while I'm not sure if I'll make it to either, I have my sights set on men's NCAA tournament action in Raleigh, as well as women's tournament action in Durham and Chapel Hill. If I can't make it out that way, it'll be the better part of a year before I get a live pep band fix again.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

3

The number 3 in sports may make you think of a few different players. Babe Ruth. Dale Earnhardt. Dwyane Wade. To me, the number 3 will always be Allen Iverson.

As I type this, they are raising AI's jersey into the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center. It's fitting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Iverson and that building are contemporaries. Iverson came into the league in 1996, as the Sixers made their new home in the then-CoreStates Center, which replaced the Spectrum. Both ushered in a new era of basketball in Philadelphia. The next year, the Sixers would adopt the new logo that would exemplify the NBA's hip hop era, with Iverson as its face, an era the league simultaneously wanted to embrace and distance itself from. Iverson was that contradiction embodied. He cared so much and cared so little at the same time. His small frame defied his larger-than-life game. He played with every bit of the grit and tenacity for which his city was known, and in doing such, became as synonymous with a city, team, and era as just about anyone.

I grew up in Wilmington Delaware, a stones throw from Philadelphia. I rooted - and still do - for Philly's sports teams. Iverson's NBA career coincided with my high school and college years. He remains to this day perhaps my favorite athlete, largely for his prominence in crucial years for me. The run to the 2001 NBA Finals remains one of the sports occurrences I credit with making me the degree of sports fan I am today.

There's a bit of symbolism in today's game, and I'm not sure if it's intentional or not. It's fitting that the 3 raise into the rafters on the first day of month number 3, as the Sixers take on Washington, where AI played his college ball.

It felt right when Iverson retired a Sixer, and I'm sure when the discussion came to the table to retire his number, there was only one Answer.

Play-In

TIs the season.
It may have taken me a while to shift my focus to college hoops, but I'm there, and I'm there something fierce. It's a world that looks a good deal different than last year; Syracuse, Pitt, and Notre Dame are in the ACC, the Big East is a different beast entirely, and the American is now a thing. And while I've got reason to dislike some of that, I could get used to Syracuse-Duke and some of the new ACC matchups.

Here in Tournament Town, Greensboro, North Carolina, we're gearing up for two consecutive weeks of ACC tournaments: First the women's, then the men's. This, too, will take on a different look; the now-15 team conference will add a day to accommodate the three opening round matchups. On the men's side, one ticket will get you all of the Wednesday tripleheader, plus a concert from NC State and American Idol's Scotty McCreery. My guess is that that's done in hopes of filling the stands, but even that may be a stretch. If the ACC standings remain as they are - and at the tail end of the season, there's little room for movement - Greensboro has perhaps the worst potential slate for what they're dubbing Opening Day. Five of the six teams competing are out of state, including the conference's northern, southern, and western outliers. Four of them were playing in the Big East a decade ago, with Notre Dame making its first trip to Greensboro this year. While the lone in-state presence is the closest, Wake Forest, it's also the smallest, and has the smallest fan base. It could lead to slim pickin's in the stands, but what about behind the baskets?

A big reason I enjoy attending the tournament each year is the pep bands. While I've typically caught first day action, there's been no shortage of bands present. But with the expanded tournament, might schools opt not bring them? Consider that Wednesday's games amount to a play-in situation to the tournament as we know it, and the aforementioned distance for most teams. While I wouldn't appreciate it, especially since I intend to attend games on the day, I could certainly understand forgoing the expense, travel, and missed class for a midweek game in this circumstance. I'm hoping they air on the side of an unforgettable tournament experience for all of the biggest supporters and bring the bands along.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Within the Rules

On an annual basis, most organizations look at the rules that govern them and examine if they continue to be relevant. In DCI, a recent rule change will add previously prohibited brass instruments to the potential palate this coming summer. In college football, a current proposal, supported, if not spearheaded, by Alabama coach Nick Saban and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, seeks to slow down the game. The proposal, which would limit advantages gained by uptempo offenses, would require teams to allow at least 10 seconds of the playoff to allow for defensive substitutions.

What do these two proposals have in common? Innovation, in one form or another. There are two ways one can innovate: One is to work within the rules as structured, and the other is to work to change the rules. Both of these aim for the latter, but while DCI's proposal offers more tools with which to innovate, the proposal before college football seeks only to stifle that which others have taken advantage of within the rules. In DCI, new opportunities will come in the form of new instruments, with new voices and visuals potentially coming in the form of trombones, french horns and sousaphones. While I don't mind this change, I said with the addition of electronics that I consider this less innovative than if they weren't in the mix. I'm more impressed if you can give me the feel of a helicopter using your battery rather than pulling up a sampled helicopter on a keyboard.

In college football, offenses have been giving us the battery-operated helicopter by using the play clock to their advantage. The new proposal would return balance - or advantage, depending on who you ask - to the opposing defense. Simply put it looks to curtail innovation by managing one of the elements that offenses can truly take advantage of: Their own clock management.

In each case, the rule change aims to gain traction by latching itself to something that the association holds near and dear. In DCI, the claim is that the new proposal gives corps the opportunity to educate a different kind of student, and creates a more inclusive environment. In the NCAA, player safety is the nebulous clarion call. The thing is, both have been refuted, either anecdotally or empirically. Musicians who play currently prohibited brass (or - gasp - woodwinds!) but seek the drum corps experience are forced to learn a new instrument. Many have, and performed at very high levels. How's that for education? And the College Football Matrix ran the numbers with regards to faster offensive play leading to more injuries, and the results may (or may not) surprise you.

I'm not claiming to be against change here; in many cases I support it, and in each association, there are rules proposals I'm fully behind - the Entertainment Effect caption in DCI (reportedly tweaked and being voted upon at a later date) and the removal of the 15 yard penalty from reversed targeting ejections. But if your goal is innovation, be sure you're on the right side of the fence.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Keys to the Game

All-Star games aren't always my thing, but the NBA All-Star Game has always had a certain swagger about it. Even when I don't watch the game, I'm always at least abreast of what is going on. Maybe it's the attention surrounding the Dunk Contest - even when lackluster. Maybe it's All-Star weekend's reputation as the Black Super Bowl. But this evening, I had a reason to turn in.

It started with ESPN's Bomani Jones giving props to the organist on Twitter, and several others chiming in. I tuned in at the top of the 4th quarter and was similarly impressed. The All-Star organist, who I've come to learn is Sir Foster (on Twitter @Sir_Foster), the house organist for the Atlanta Hawks, is giving us range, from the latest pop hits, to hip hop classics, to the in-game standards. He's playing the role of the band that gives us Hey (Rock and Roll Pt. II) and Hay (In the Middle of the Barn). And on at least one occasion, he acknowledged his Twitter fame, calling his shot to Jones before hitting us with the Ying Yang Twins.

I use the term "marching/athletic music" by design. While "marching arts" covers marching band, corps, and guard, marching/athletic music speaks specifically to the fact that the music is used in an athletic context. Pep band is a big piece of that picture as well, and while I may not have previously considered it, so are NBA organists. The ability to enhance the game experience through music is a thread that runs through them all. The difference is, most NBA organists remain relatively anonymous. I'm glad that this All-Star performance is getting Sir Foster his props. As I type this, Kyrie Irving was just named the MVP, but here, I'm giving the organist some.

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