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Sunday, January 9, 2022

#bowlbands - College Football Playoff Championship

 Alabama and Georgia will meet for the championship in a decidedly un-SEC locale. Three of their last four meetings - two SEC title games and the championship game following the 2017 season - took place in Atlanta, but this time a pair of schools separated by less than 300 miles in the southeast will make the trip 500 some odd miles north to Indianapolis, a city far more well known for Big Ten tilts.

The city is also known as the host of the DCI World Championships, but this Monday night they'll be hosting a pair of Sudler Trophy winners - much as they did a month ago as Michigan and Iowa met in the Big Ten championship. On that same day, the Million Dollar Band and the Redcoat Marching Band last saw one another.

Georgia:

Alabama:

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Casual Fan

Who is the casual fan?

They get brought up often, usually in the context of TV ratings, and especially in the postseason. As Georgia and Alabama prepare to play for the College Football Playoff championship, questions abound about how much the "casual fan" cares to see this matchup. The question is not without merit. The two played just a month ago in the SEC championship game. Alabama in particular is the "boring" participant, having appeared in five of the last six championships and won three of them. Both teams represent a conference, the SEC, that holds four championships in the playoff era. The pair are separated by less than 300 miles, and occupy two adjacent states in the southeast. It's easy to see how the rest of the country - or at least the ones who aren't chanting S-E-C - would be uninterested.

And yet, the last time these two met in the title game, following the 2017 season, was the second most watched championship game of the playoff era. While Bama wasn't yet as deep into its just-this-side-of-boring dominance by that point, most of the other factors remain the same. So why did it draw so many eyeballs? Perhaps "casual fan" is a misnomer.

"Casual fan" may accurately describe those who don't cling to every pre-season magazine, watch every also-ran bowl game, consume every piece of media about the sport, but it may not get at what they are fanatical about. To a casual college football fan who loves sports because they enjoy seeing amazing athletic performance, for example, this game may be of great interest. To those who can't miss a championship game for simple FOMO, they're tuning in. The game is also of interest to those who are primarily NFL fans - after all, it will be full of players with Sunday in their future. Even with an Alabama program that writes the championship game in their planner in pen, the potential that Georgia might be one of the few to get the best of the Tide may be of interest to the casual fan. So whether they're tuning in to hate-watch Bama, get a glimpse of the future, or just get the last glimpse of college football until the fall, there's a good chance this one still draws decently.

Friday, December 31, 2021

#bowlbands - CFP Semifinal: Capital One Orange Bowl

 The Michigan Wolverines and Georgia Bulldogs will meet in the second semifinal in the Capital One Orange Bowl. Michigan made the playoff after beating archrival Ohio State in the final game of the regular season and Iowa in the Big Ten championship game. After spending the entire season at #1, Georgia dropped the SEC championship game to Alabama, but only fell to #3. The Orange Bowl matches a pair of Sudler Trophy winners: Michigan was the first to receive the honor, while Georgia was the first in the SEC. However, as is Orange Bowl tradition, both bands will miss halftime, as their recording artist halftime show will get fancy like Applebee's on a date night with Walker Hayes.

The two programs both have ties to bandsmen I admire. My high school's blue and gold may as well have been maize and blue under the direction of Paul Parets, who spent 36 years as director of the Alexis I. duPont High School Tiger Marching Band. Among the band's accolades with Mr. Parets at the helm were five trips to the Rose Parade, multiple trips to the Lord Mayor's New Year's Day parade in London, St. Patrick's Day parade in Ireland, and of particular note here, performances in the Orange Bowl Parade in Miami.

This past January, I lost a friend and colleague who passed unexpectedly in Dr. Dennis AsKew, who served as director of the School of Music at UNCG. I met Dennis when he was serving as the pep band director, and we connected over our love of athletic bands, including drum corps. He marched sousaphone for Georgia and loved his Dawgs. Dennis also attended Michigan.

Should Alabama win the other semifinal, the winner of this game will be headed for another dual Sudler matchup.

Georgia

Michigan

#bowlbands - CFP Semifinal: Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

The first semifinal matchup this New Year's Eve has been billed by most as David vs. Goliath. Cincinnati, the first Group of Five team to be included in the College Football Playoff, and they've got a tall task ahead of them in reigning champion and perennial power Alabama.

At the half and in the stands, the Bearcat Band will be facing the Million Dollar Band, and to say they've been there before would be an understatement. Bama's band may as well get the playoff logo (Clemson's band informed me that they're stickers) permanently affixed to their uniforms. Still, Cincinnati's band knows they're damn good, and will take the field as fearlessly as their team. However, the Bearcat Band will be taking the field without Director Christopher Nichter and Associate Director Nicholas Angelis, both of whom have been placed on leave for unknown reasons.

This year's Cotton Bowl is also a family affair: The Moorhouse family has a pair of brothers marching in both bands. Senior Christopher plays alto sax in the Million Dollar Band, while his younger brother Noah stayed local and marches the same instrument for the Bearcat Band.

Cincinnati:

Alabama:

For All the Mayo

 

On a gray, foggy, intermittently rainy day in Charlotte, I reunited with live football.

I was at the same bowl - then the Belk Bowl - in late 2019. Then 2020 was, of course, 2020, and despite a few games of interest nearby this past season, I kept my distance. But that streak broke today a short drive down I-85. While I had always intended to attend, I waited until the last minute to buy my ticket. Having planned on going to the Military Bowl parade while in Maryland earlier in the week, I had already been affected by one bowl cancellation, and hoped that the game in Charlotte wouldn't meet a similar fate.

The Duke's Mayo Bowl pitted North Carolina against South Carolina, at the crossroads of the Carolinas, and the bowl couldn't have asked for a better comeback after the 2020 season. With Columbia and Chapel Hill within easy driving distance - to say nothing of the untold thousands of Gamecocks and Tar Heels living in the Charlotte Metro already - the game was well attended and lively. The bowl's social media presence and the promise of a mayo bath (and a donation to charity) for the winning coach, added intrigue for the home viewers, even the irritable bowl syndrome folks who think there are too many meaningless bowls.

I saw the Mighty Sound of the Southeast most recently at the 2018 Belk Bowl; I haven't seen the Marching Tar Heels live since 2007 when USF played in Chapel Hill, though I've seen their pep bands plenty here in Greensboro. I was seated in the upper deck, TV side, on about the side 1 40 yard line, meaning South Carolina has about a 20 yard advantage on my ears, but even without that, it was clear they had superior sonic output. I also happened to be on the South Carolina side, so I only got UNC's band from the backfield.

While the well attended game was undoubtedly good for the bowl's coffers, it made it a bit tougher to navigate as a band fan. My experience with both bands was from my cheap seat perch, while in year's past I've been able to move down closer to both bands. Still, it was great to be out there live once more. For more, check out #bowlbands on Instagram and Twitter. Here's to 2022!

Friday, December 10, 2021

#bowlbands Rapid* Reactions

 (And by rapid, I mean that I'm going through them fairly quickly, not that they're coming immediately after announcements, because, well, yeah.)

First, I hope, as I always to, that the full bands get to attend each bowl game. My previous refrain was if an athletic department couldn't afford to send its full operation - band cheer, dance, etc. - to the postseason, they weren't equipped to compete at that level; however, I understand that programs were hit hard this past year with the pandemic, so I'm not nearly as critical now. 

One of the first things I typically go looking for any bowl season is dual Sudler matchups, and it's a slim slate - just three to start, with a fourth in the championship game if Alabama wins its semifinal game against Cincinnati. Beyond the other semifinal game, Michigan vs. Georgia in the Orange Bowl (where they won't do halftime), LSU meets Kansas State in the TaxAct Texas Bowl and Penn State and Arkansas will meet in the Outback Bowl.

The field at Raymond James Stadium will also see an in-state pairing as Florida plays UCF in the Gasparilla Bowl, just over a week prior. It will be Florida's second trip there this year, as the Gators played USF early in the season; UCF makes their way there every other year in the annual War on I-4. Two schools that call themselves Carolina also have a short trip ahead of them, as North Carolina and South Carolina will meet in Charlotte in the Duke's Mayo Bowl. I intend to be at the game, which will be the third name under which I will attend the bowl in Charlotte. I'll also make my way out to at least the parade, if not the game, for the Military Bowl while in Maryland for the holidays, meaning I'll catch North, South, and East Carolina.

The New Year's Six matchups are a mixed bag of familiar and unfamiliar. Both the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl will feature traditional tie-ins: Big Ten/Pac-12 and Big 12/SEC, respectively. #5 Notre Dame returns to the Fiesta Bowl for the third time since 2000, while Oklahoma State, who sat literal inches from making the playoff conversation much more interesting, returns for the first time since finishing #3 in the then-BCS standings following the 2011 season. But most seemingly out of place is the Peach Bowl. This year's game, which will feature a Pat Narduzzi-helmed, ACC Champion Pitt against Narduzzi's previous employer Michigan State, will host no southern schools for only the second time in the bowl's history, the other being Army vs. Illinois in 1985.

But fear not, Atlanta - the South is still coming through. The Sonic Boom of the South, that is, who will meet the Marching 101 in the Celebration Bowl, back after a pandemic hiatus. Both Jackson State and South Carolina State are making their first appearances as the SWAC and MEAC representatives, respectively. Jackson State in particular has been getting outsized attention for an FCS program generally and an HBCU specifically from sports media due to having Coach Prime - NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders - at the helm as head coach.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Swine Flew

 

I've only been to Cincinnati once.

Back in 2017, my wife ran the Flying Pig half marathon in Cincy, and we made a nice little family trip up for the weekend.

Today, pigs flew once again, as the Cincinnati Bearcats became the first Group of Five team to make the College Football Playoff.

Yes, they're already betrothed to the Big 12. And it took every single star aligning - including losses from all the right teams and a victory over the committee's #5 Notre Dame - for them to make their way in. But they're in. They're in for every Boise State, every TCU, every Utah, every UCF whose undefeated efforts were deemed not enough by the Powers That Be to this point. 

As a USF alumnus, Cincinnati has been a conference foe for longer than I've been a Bull, through the Metro, Conference USA, the Big East and the American. Under most circumstances, I'd consider them a rival. But this comeup is bigger than any individual rivalry. It's the shattering of the glass ceiling that has prevented any team from outside college football's college structure from so much as sniffing a championship.

It's entirely possible that Cincinnati gets the brakes beat off them by Bama in the semifinal. They wouldn't be the first - each year of the playoff has featured at least one semifinal blowout so far. Some would undoubtedly use it as evidence that Cincy didn't belong, but the fact is, they earned their way in and now have a chance at the unthinkable. This year's playoff field is notable in that beyond Bama, no other participant has won a championship in the 21st century. So while I'm excited to see Michigan and Georgia in the mix as well, I'm rooting for Cincinnati. Because in a phrase I haven't uttered a ton since the days of the Big East, we all we got.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Expansion Szn

In late September, Drum Corps International's member corps came together for their fall business meeting. While most rule changes pass in January, there were a few items that came to a vote during this meeting. Among the most newsworthy was a unanimous vote that expanded the number of performers to 165, up from the previous limit of 154, and 135 just a decade and a half ago. 

(The college football fans among you may think this isn't the expansion talk you were expecting. I'm getting there, I promise.)

While the vote was unanimous, it wasn't without criticism. The corps touted increased opportunities for participation, but critics note that it may widen the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. Members who may have previously been waitlisted or cut entirely from top-flight corps would be contributing members of other corps; might they now forego opportunities at perceived "lower" corps if they squeeze in with increased limits?

In related news, college football's back at it with realignment, and the latest moves stand to erode the FBS' middle class. This round kicked off when Texas and Oklahoma, undeniably  two of the sport's elites, announced their intentions to defect to the SEC from the Big 12. In the uncertainty that followed: The Big 12 accused ESPN of colluding with the American Athletic Conference to raid their conference (in advance of their own raid); the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 (but not the Big 12) announced an "alliance" aimed at stabilizing the sport amid what was unspoken but assumed to be SEC overreach; the Big 12, now at eight teams, sat uneasily, fearing scavenging from other conferences before launching their own offensive and poaching Houston, Cincinnati, and Central Florida from the American, along with independent BYU. The American has since responded and, after kicking the tires on a few Mountain West schools, added UAB, Florida Atlantic, Charlotte, North Texas, Rice, and UTSA, all from Conference USA.

The American, née Big East, is no stranger to the post realignment regather and rebuild. The football side of the house needed a revamp after losing Virginia Tech, Miami, and Boston College to the ACC; after losing Pitt, Syracuse, and Louisville to the same, West Virginia to the Big 12, and Rutgers to the Big Ten; amid the split that created the American and left the basketball schools with the Big East name; and now once more. 

Each realignment has left the conference in worse shape; moving to the bottom of the AQ pecking order in the BCS, to being left outside the Power 5 as the American. And while even from the outside looking in, the American was the consensus next conference up (to say nothing of their self dubbed "Power 6" moniker), even that claim comes into question. While the new schools add additional teams in some key media markets, they weren't even the "next up" programs from throughout the Group of 5. Expansion landing the conference at 14 teams is also notable; many assume it's in anticipation of a future raid, possibly once again from the Big 12. meanwhile, after skimming off the top programs from the Group of 5, the Big 12 staves off extinction while widening the gulf between them and and the G5 conferences. 

This round of realignment is almost certainly not done; there are currently reports of Conference USA's Old Dominion joining the Sun Belt, the conference that has been C-USA's target in previous rounds.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Triple Option

For more than three decades, ESPN's College GameDay has been the premier appetizer to the action of a fall Saturday. Many who intended to whet their appetite for the day's college football action tune in religiously for the signs, Old Crimson flying, a Tom Rinaldi tearjerker (until recently), and the Lee Corso headgear pick. A number of programs have come on the scene, many of which incorporate signature elements into their own format. 

This season, a few new Saturday offerings have come on the scene that have me jumping formats. While GameDay gets underway at 9am, an hour later Culture State Saturday begins. The Culture State Podcast is a weekly podcast that discusses sports and culture in the state of North Carolina, and hosts Dennis Cox and Chris Lea keep the party going on Saturday mornings on 99.9 The Fan out of Raleigh. The show covers both North Carolina football and the national scene, and while I'm not in the listening area, it's a listen worth catching via the online live broadcast.

And hour later at 11, the Solid Verbal podcast has begun Solid Saturday. Solid Verbal has been my go-to college football podcast for more than a decade, and recently, they've begun expanding their options, with Solid Saturday's live broadcast via YouTube being among the additions. With Both Culture State Saturday and Solid Saturday joining the lineup, there's plenty for me to turn on, across multiple formats, on a Saturday morning.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Industry Baby

 


From the first time I heard it, Industry Baby hit like a stadium anthem. 

The horns. They lyrics. The braggadocio. 

And this one is for the champions
I ain't lost since I began, yeah
Funny how you said it was the end, yeah
Then I went and did it again, yeah

It seems poised to become as ubiquitous as All I Do Is Win. And yet, I also wondered if it would blare from stadium speakers, or if Lil Nas X was too "controversial."

I say "controversial" with all of the eyeroll it deserves. Most of the "controversy" is that Lil Nas X is gay. He came out following the global success of Old Town Road, and has been living unapologetically ever since. His two most recent videos have made a splash - in Montero (Call Me By Your Name) he grinds on Satan before snatching his crown; the Industry Baby video sees him going to prison for Montero and features a naked dance scene in the prison shower. Pitting that against the often hypermasculine backdrop of men's sports, and it wouldn't surprise me if teams steered clear. In a vacuum, it's easy to see an underdog jumping around singing, "You was never really rootin for me anyway" after a big upset.

We do know it's at least made its way into one stadium. At last Sunday's National Battle of the Bands in Houston, Southern University's Human Jukebox cranked it. It's easy to see why - in addition to the above reasons it fits in a stadium, its synthesized horns translate well to their analog counterparts. Put simply, it slaps.

And for anyone who would want to see it excluded because they feel some kinda way about Lil Nas X? You was never really rootin for him anyway.

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