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Sunday, January 12, 2020

Tiger Tiger, Burning Bright

I'll cycle through the obvious ones first: Yes, I'm rooting for the Tigers. Which Tigers? The ones that play in Death Valley.

But with the College Football Playoff National Championship looming, I suppose I should pick a side. And with all due respect to some great friends of mine who hold either degrees or fandoms with the Blue Ridge Bengals...

...Geaux.

Pourquoi? Blame it all on my roots. My family - my paternal grandmother, specifically - is from New Orleans, the Nero family homestead, where some of my extended family still live. It's the extended branch to which I am most connected, and as such I've always felt an affinity for Louisiana, despite not yet having been there. LSU has a tie to its home state like few other flagships enjoy, as most tend to split loyalty with another in-state program. My Louisiana kin are purple and gold clad, and with no actual ties to either team, I'm inclined to oblige.

Interestingly enough, it's those same roots that would give me reason to distance myself from Baton Rouge. With Louisiana - and with it, its system of higher education - still being deeply segregated in the 1940s, my grandma, who got her undergraduate degree across town at Southern, was denied entry to LSU, because racism. She would ultimately join the Second Great Migration and get her master's degree from Wisconsin. LSU's first Black student would set foot on campus in the fall of 1953, a semester after the birth of my grandmother's second child - my father. Still, she would have seen no different prognosis had she been a South Carolinian; Clemson would not integrate until nearly a decade later.

One more thing draws me to LSU: Coach O. The fact that LSU did right by head coach Ed Orgeron has been rewarded so far, and I would love to see if culminate in a championship. Coach O is as Louisiana as it gets, and I was pleased to see him get the call after LSU parted ways with Les Miles.  For this loyalty to be rewarded on Monday night would mean the world to that coach, school, and state.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Bowl Bands: 2019-20 College Football Playoff Semifinals

Image courtesy of collegefootballplayoff.com
The stage has long been set, and the College Football Playoff will soon be underway. The top four teams in the nation will fight for a chance to play for the championship trophy, and they'll be bringing their bands with them.

This year's field is as stacked as any in the playoff era, with three of the four bands holding Sudler Trophy honors, and all having a strong tradition that includes competing in either the College Football Playoff or the BCS Championship in the past decade.

Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl
This year's 1/4 matchup pits the 1 seed LSU Tigers against the #4 Oklahoma Sooners. LSU is the newcomer to the Playoff, though they played for a BCS championship following the 2011 season. LSU's Golden Band from Tigerland last marched in Mercedes Benz Stadium earlier this month in the SEC Championship. Conversely, Oklahoma has never played a game in the state of Georgia, and oddly enough, had never even played a team from Georgia before the 2018 Rose Bowl, so it's safe to assume this will be the first trip to the Peach State for the Pride of Oklahoma as well.

LSU:

Oklahoma:


PlayStation Fiesta Bowl
The interior seeds will meet in the desert as #2 Ohio State faces #3 and defending national champions Clemson. Both programs have tasted glory in the playoff era, with Clemson winning two of the last three and Ohio State having taken the first one. These two programs met following the 2016 season with the seeding reversed in the same bowl game, so it's not unreasonable to assume there are members of both the Ohio State University Marching Band and the Band that Shakes the Southland who were part of both matchups. TBDBITL has to be hoping for a better matchup than their last meeting, which eliminated Ohio State from playoff contention to the tune of 31-0.

Ohio State:

Clemson:


The winners of each semifinal will meet in the championship game in New Orleans on Monday, January 13, 2020.

Celebrate the Culture

For the past five seasons, the bowl schedule has included one departure from the Football Bowl Subdivision: From the FCS ranks, the MEAC and SWAC champions have met in the Celebration Bowl to determine the HBCU national champion. Since the bowl's inception, a chorus emerges from the woodwork each year to chide the MEAC and SWAC for not competing for the "real" championship by participating in the FCS playoffs. If I'm perfectly honest, I was among them, briefly, early on.  But the Celebration Bowl is in concert with college football's rich traditions in a way that we'd be worse off without.

For starters, let's not kid ourselves about the sanctity of the "real" championship. College football has been unable to agree on its champions since its inception. At the sport's highest level, it took until the 146th season to enter into something that can be reasonable called a playoff, and while it's more inclusive than its predecessor, the BCS, it is still not without its flaws. Throughout the overwhelming majority of the sport, the champions have been crowned by polls. The Black College Football national champion has been no different in this respect. There have been previous attempts to settle it on the field, but the Celebration Bowl represents the first time the MEAC and SWAC champions meet by contract, with the playoff being the primary obstacle in the past.

And yet, very little has changed with regards to HBCU participation in the FCS postseason. While opponents may wish to imagine a grand HBCU secession from the playoffs, the reality is far less complicated. The SWAC has always prized its own product over the playoffs, and with the Turkey Day Classic, Bayou Classic, and their own championship game to consider, they simply couldn't be bothered to participate in the playoffs. The MEAC no longer sends its champion to the playoffs, but the conference is still eligible for at-large bids, and has received one in the Celebration Bowl era, with North Carolina A&T representing the conference in 2016.

"But isn't the Celebration Bowl and the decision not to send its champion to the playoffs just an admission of HBCU inferiority?" the common refrain goes. Make no mistake - HBCUs are historically and systemically underresourced - by design.To pretend that any shortcomings in athletics aren't a symptom thereof is simply ignoring both historical fact and present reality. Yet still, HBCUs are competitive to exemplary in virtually every way, especially as it relates to educating black students, where their PWI peers at all levels often fall short. While it's not systemic in the same way, claiming HBCUs "can't compete" is the same half-truth as claiming that Group of Five teams "can't compete" while ignoring the imbalance with which they are operating. Ironically - and  by no means should this be the goal - the payouts and resources afforded by participation in the Celebration Bowl could be used to close the gap in a way that makes programs competitive with perennial playoffs powers.

But the Celebration Bowl's primary purpose isn't too different from that of other bowls: reward and exposure. The Celebration Bowl provides much more of this for its participants than they could ever hope for in the FCS playoffs. Its inclusion in ESPN's Bowl Mania alone is more coverage than the FCS Playoffs tend to get, despite the semifinals taking place on the same day. Because it's part of the overall bowl schedule, other media have to account for it as well, ensuring that they have to at least prepare a one liner about the likes of A&T or Alcorn State. The Celebration Bowl's media deal - a noon Saturday kick on ABC - is as good as the FCS Championship, with the added benefit of not competing for time and attention with the NFL Playoffs of the College Football Playoff championship. And a MEAC or SWAC champion playing the other is far more meaningful than a December matchup against a fellow FCS program. The last playoff game I attended was Delaware-DelState, a historic matchup between a pair of state schools held apart for the entirety of their existence by the same systemic exclusion that created HBCUs in the first place. A game of this import in the first round of the playoffs is the exception that proves the rule. Far more often, there’s little intrigue for the matchup beyond both teams wanting to survive and advance.

But above all else, the Celebration Bowl is for the culture. In much the same way the NCAA basketball Final Four becomes the epicenter of all things college hoops, including the coaches' convention, the Celebration Bowl becomes the center of HBCU activity for a weekend in Atlanta. ESPN's sports and culture arm, The Undefeated, gets to run point on much of the weekend's coverage. Divine Nine fraternities and sororities have a presence up to and including national leadership. The seating map for the game explicitly states where both bands will be seated - an important detail. Luster Products is a major sponsor. The NFL hosts its football career forum aimed towards HBCU students. And of course, the game ends properly with a 5th Quarter. Instead of tying themselves to a product that wasn't created with them in mind, the MEAC and SWAC went with a bowl tie-in that served them best, much as major conferences have been doing. And that is a cause for Celebration.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

#CMB150 - The Podcast

This season, as we commemorated the 150th anniversary of college football, I put together a podcast discussing college football's presence during the sports century and a half. It was released earlier this fall as eight episodes in five weeks (get it?) plus a trailer and "halftime" bonus episode. You can give all of the episodes a listen here or on your favorite podcast app.


Introducing CMB150: From the Goal Line
Episode 1 - No Counterpart Anywhere in the World
Episode 2 - The Music That Moves Us
Episode 3 - Ya Gotta Have Style
Episode 4 - Anatomy of a Marching Band
Halftime Bonus Episode - The Professor William C. Moffit Collection
Episode 5 - The Sudler Trophy
Episode 6 - Maestro
Episode 7 - Inside the Band Room
Episode 8 - For The Culture

Monday, December 23, 2019

Head Bull Coach

Courtesy of gousfbulls.com
Nine years ago, following the 2010 college football season, USF and Clemson met in Charlotte in what is now the Belk Bowl. In 2019, as USF licks its wounds from a 4-8 season and Clemson prepares to compete for its third College Football Playoff championship in four years, it's safe to say their paths have diverged. But USF may just be getting a taste of the orange.

On December 9, 2019, USF announced Jeff Scott as USF's fifth head football coach. Scott was on the Clemson sideline during that bowl game as a Clemson wide receivers coach, and joins the Bulls most recently from a stint as co-offensive coordinator for Clemson. The Arcadia, FL native is returning home to lead a program he has reportedly had his eye on for a while. USF and Scott didn't find one another during the opening that brought us Charlie Strong, but the Bulls have now invited Scott to lead the program. Scott is now in the process of rounding out his staff and finishing out the year's recruiting.

For the best coverage of USF, be sure to visit The Daily Stampede.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Band Together

This past weekend, following Kansas State's defeat of Oklahoma at K-State's Bill Snyder Family Stadium, a unit from the Pride of Wildcat Land crossed the proverbial aisle to offer protection to their fellow bandsfolk in the Pride of Oklahoma and escort them from the stadium. It was a beautiful showing of bandsmanship.

It should also never have had to happen.

Ironically, there's a good chance the plan was formulated with a different outcome in mind. Oklahoma, then the #5 team in the country, was the favorite in that game, and it was foreseeable that Wildcats fans, upset with the outcome, may have set upon the visiting band. Instead, with K-State pulling the monumental upset, there was similar concern that overzealous fans may have been at careless or at worst hostile in their revelry.

Unfortunately, there's precedent from this year of fans taking things too far with the band. In Week Zero, as the University of Florida band attempted to depart their matchup with Miami in Orlando's Camping World Stadium, Florida's band director was attacked. Following the Cy-Hawk game between Iowa and Iowa State in Ames, both schools began an investigation into the reported verbal and physical harassment of the Hawkeye Marching Band.

Often, in opposing stadiums, the marching band is the largest contingent in the opposing teams colors, and as with everywhere they go, they are a representation of their school. Unfortunately, this also makes them a likely target for any classless jerk that would do them harm.

Penalties, whether through the student code of conduct or court of law, need to be swift and strong for those found responsible. In football parlance, the band is a defenseless receiver, even if a wallop with a trumpet or a mallet is what one's action warrants. In lieu of that, I'm glad bands are protecting one another - even if they shouldn't have to.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Brewgating

I might just have a new hobby.

I went to Wake Forest's home opener this year. Winston-Salem isn't far by any stretch of the imagination, but it's off the beaten path enough that I tend to make plans to do something else when I'm out there. I also found myself in a predicament of circumstance; My car had been idling hot, making parking in stadium lots and the subsequent wait to get out not only inconvenient, but hazardous. I hatched a plan: I'd check out one of Winston-Salem's newest breweries - Incendiary Brewing - and then Uber from there to the game, for not too much different from the cost to park on site, with a fraction of the headache.

It worked out exactly as planned. So when I had occasion to be back in Winston this past weekend - this time for a Sixers-Hornets preseason game - I figured I'd repeat the feat. It just so happened that they were urging folks to get to the arena prohibitively early because the game, coupled with the Dixie Classic Fair, would cause considerable traffic delays. And while I'm typically down for fairgating, I already had fair plans with my family the next day, so I figured I'd reprise the brewery plan. This time it was Fiddlin' Fish Brewing Company. Looking back, I followed the same blueprint during my Belk Kickoff and Belk Bowl trips to Charlotte last year with the short walk to Unknown.

I'll still always opt for a tailgate when it makes the most sense, but when it doesn't, brewgating is the move.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Amazing Happens Every Saturday (And Sometimes Friday)

But here's the thing: Amazing happens every Saturday on football fields throughout the country, and a lot of it happens when the game clock isn't running. Amazing happens in a variety of marching styles, with a variety of musical offerings, and it happens largely out of the view of television cameras, and sadly, also out of the view of live spectators who take the opportunity to grab a beer instead of watching what's going on on the field. October 11, 2011

I Got (8 to) 5 On It

The Pittsburg High School Marching Show Band from Pittsburg, CA in the Bay has gone viral for their rendition of "I Got Five On It." Admittedly, folk around my age are inclined to ask, "what y'all know about that?" as though no one's ever played music that predates them, but reportedly the Pirates have been playing this tune for quite a while. Of course, it also got a resurgence with the horror film Us released

Coming from a band that marched bells, I think the glockenspiel has reached self actualization with this song.


Sunday, August 25, 2019

CMB150

This is the first of a series throughout the 2019 football season to commemorate the College Football 150th Anniversary through the lens of the college marching band.

Perhaps I shouldn't start with a disclaimer, but I will. This isn't a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the marching band. Depending on how you do your math, that anniversary is either already beyond us, or yet to come.

Generally, "outdoor music" dates back to antiquity, with the American marching band being established at roughly the same time the United States was, with the Marine Band being denoted by the Continental Congress in 1775. In college, Notre Dame lays claim to the first college band, c. 1845. But even then, the activity's full potential was not yet realized.

In The Beginning
College football began in 1869 with a game between Rutgers and Princeton, though there's reasonable objection to the sport played on that November day being football as we know it. As the game continued to evolve over its first few decades, it also saw the addition of a symbiotic relationship in the collegiate marching band. The fight song was born in 1885, with Boston College's For Boston, and two years later, the Notre Dame band would first appear at a college football game, first marking the glorious pairing that endures to this day.

Two innovations came about in the first decade of the 20th century that would change the face of football. One was the forward pass. The other was the marching band halftime show. If one were to pinpoint the true start of the college football marching band, it might be with the first letter formed on the field - Purdue's Block P - or the first halftime show by Illinois, both in 1907. Indeed, by the year 1900, the presence of bands had become more common at football games, and as the sport grew, so did that partnership.

Evolution
Much of the early history of college football can be attributed to that which we now know as the Big Ten. After leaving its northeastern roots, college football's next outpost was the midwest, and as the gridiron game took hold there, so too did the traditions that would shape marching bands as we know them. Through the first few decades of the 20th century, football grew closer to the game as we know it today: 100 yard fields, end zones, 15 minute quarters and four downs. In 1920, a group of teams from Ohio would meet and form the first professional league, the American Professional Football Conference, now the NFL. The college game was more popular than ever - champions were crowned in all regions of the country, attendances topped 100,000 fans in new stadiums - modern day colosseums for the day's gladiators. These new stadiums increased the possibilities for marching bands: Taller grandstands allowed for more intricate field formations and the vantage points from which to view them. Illinois put the first word - ILLINI - on the field in 1923. The Marching Illini in particular would continue to innovate, from words to pictures and animation, colorful uniforms, and auxiliary groups. As coach salaries, stadiums, and salaries grew, universities had to wrestle with football's compatibility with the institution's mission.

Football, Band, America
Soon football, and the marching bands that accompanied it, would be inextricable from American identities. In the south, southern football prowess was linked with southern pride, and the Southeastern Conference was founded in 1932. In Louisiana, Governor Huey "Kingfish" Long linked pride in Louisiana with pride in LSU, and pride in LSU with the effectiveness of its marching band, which he quadrupled in size and even co-wrote songs for. Interest in the spectacle of marching bands extended beyond the stadium into articles in the likes of Popular Mechanics. Both football and marching would wrestle with questions of purpose that got at each activity's very soul. Football's often adversarial nature with academics would lead the University of Chicago and Sewanee: The University of the South to leave the Big Ten and SEC, respectively, to focus on academics. Marching bands, meanwhile, would have to reconcile showmanship with musicianship, as some directors and music departments decried the stunts that they felt defined the modern marching band. The College Band Directors National Association first met in 1941 as directors considered these challenges and their place within the college band landscape.

World War II had its effect on both football and marching bands. While some bands ceased their activities altogether, other allowed women into their ranks for the first time. Marching bands were already linked to war, as marching music began with military musicians; football, meanwhile was used as a proxy for war, with pre-flight military training schools excelling at the sport during the War. Navy athletic director Jonas H. Ingram would state, "The closest thing to war in times of peace is football."

In the decade and a half following World War II, showmanship continued to develop. Majorettes became common, as did dance routines; the longer strides that kept with the military tradition gave way to high stepping with shorter strides. The early 1950s brought the first mention of Eight to Five, the 22.5" marching step that covers five yards in eight steps that is now standard for most marching bands. The '50s would also see the use of field-specific instruments like mellophones as opposed to french horns, the removal of double reed instruments, arrangements tailored specifically to marching bands, and variety in uniforms. Bands began to observe an "early week" - yes, band camp - and specifically rehearse marching band fundamentals. Bill Moffit's Patterns in Motion in 1960 would set the scene for traditional style marching.

Meanwhile, bands' popular appeal would go beyond just the college game. Marching bands never caught on in a big way in the NFL, with the Redskins and Colts fielding notable exceptions. Still, when the professional game added the championship game that would become the Super Bowl following the 1966 season, they turned to college marching bands for halftime entertainment for eight of the first nine years.

Styles
Marching styles differentiate by region, conference, and institution type. Throughout the Big Ten, a traditional style was born and has largely endured. Elements which include high step marching and drum major strutting make their way into many programs, especially during pregame performances. 

The show style present at HBCUs maintains traditional style elements while adding more flair. Segregation sent many black music educators north, often to the midwest, for advanced degrees that they were barred from pursuing at predominantly white schools in the south. One such educator was William P. Foster, who served as director of Florida A&M University's Marching 100 for over a half century. Many of the innovations have become commonplace not just at HBCUs, but at all manners of institutions.

While the Ivy League was part of the founding of college football, their marching bands have taken a decidedly different tilt. Every Ivy League school but Cornell, and a host of other academically elite schools employ scramble bands. Their style incorporates nontraditional instrumentation; satirical, often irreverent shows; and drill that often set and resets not by marching into place but by scattering to their next place. The Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band is the most prominent of these, as the only such band in a Power 5 league.

The ongoing military influence on marching music evolved not only at the collegiate level, but also in the drum and bugle corps that would eventually form Drum Corps International. With these corps, the military stride morphed into the glide step that is a staple of corps style marching today. While it was described in 1957 as a special effect, it dominates the landscape today in both high school and college bands. 

The Modern Era
Marching band continues to influence many elements of pop culture outside of football to this day. Marching bands are featured in commercials, their style is incorporated into pop music, they add to live concerts and performances, and they are turned to by major corporations seeking to jazz up events.

In 2002, Drumline was released, the first and to date only major motion picture based entirely around marching band. The film's effect influenced pop culture and bands alike. Both Blast and Drumline Live have brought marching music into the theater, and the Honda Battle of the Bands has provided an annual pilgrimage to Atlanta for bandheads for the past decade and a half. The Big Ten Network centers bands in one of their commercials, and Beyonce based an entire Coachella performance and accompanying concert film around the black college band experience. 

The internet has played a large role in band culture, while media, social and otherwise, have as well. The 5th Quarter spent two decades as the internet's virtual HBCU band room before closing this past January. Halftime Magazine has been serving the marching arts in print form since 2007, and College Marching has had a huge presence, especially on social media, since its 2014 founding. Marching band content that was once handed off and mailed via video tape can now be found on YouTube, and podcasts such as the Marching Podcast and Marching Roundtable cover the activity as well. Marching bands themselves embrace all manners of media to get their message out and connect with their fans, members, and one another.

And much as the bands have evolved both in relation to and apart from college football these past 150 years, they will continue to push boundaries, thrill audiences, and enhance experiences for untold decades to come.

Several resources were consulted in this piece's creation. Citations can be found here

Band on the Road 2019


Each year since 2011, Band on the Road has attempted to catalog each travel game throughout the season for bands in power conferences. The resource is fully editable by design. While a good deal of work goes into its initial creation, the very point is that those in the know can edit it accordingly, making it as robust a database as possible. Band on the Road features the Power Five leagues by scope, not slight, and includes HBCU classics and, new for 2019, Battles of the Bands. Feel free to use it to see where your favorite band may be headed, or to add to the body of work with information not yet gathered. Enjoy!
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