MediaStrike Banner

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Band Together


College marching bands have been sidelined - literally and figuratively - all season long. As the College Football Playoff championship game looms, we will miss out on a dual Sudler matchup between Alabama's Million Dollar Band and Ohio State's TBDBITL, but there's a halftime to be had that's much farther reaching.

The College Band Directors National Association, in conjunction with partners including CollegeMarching.com,  StylePLUS, Halftime Magazine, Guard Closet, and FansRaise, have put together the Intercollegiate Marching Band, presented by GPGMusic and OurVirtualEnsemble.com. The IMB will feature over 1500 students from nearly 200 college bands to perform a virtual halftime show to debut on YouTube as college football crowns its College Football Playoff champion. The ensemble will perform Beyonce's End of Time in a two minute performance set to drop at halftime. And while performing at the championship game has been traditionally reserved for a precious few bands whose football teams reach the pinnacle of the sport, the Intercollegiate Marching Band will feature performers from across all NCAA divisions, the NJCAA, and the NAIA. 

While the Rose Bowl contractually obligates ESPN/ABC to show a portion of each band's halftime performance, the Worldwide Leader has followed suit for each of the major bowl games from what was then the BCS since they got broadcast rights back from Fox in the 2010 football season. Still, the two minutes they show have often been clumsy: Despite bands typically performing repeat shows that could be scouted and well produced for the television broadcast, they have instead opted for a midshow chunk with seemingly little more rhyme or reason than checking a box.

In contrast, the IMB will have a performance painstakingly put together by OurVirtualEnsemble.com. Virtual performances have been a necessary mainstay of pandemic life. Virtual Arts sprung up in the wake of the cancelled DCI season to put together a virtual drum corps performance, and continued in to the typical high school/college marching and indoor seasons. And while ensembles would much rather be together, these ensembles both bridge the gap until students are with their respective programs again, and present opportunities never before seen until necessity created it. 

I don't know if ESPN has yet announce what they will do for halftime, if they do anything at all other than a studio show. In the past, they have flirted with replacing or counter-programming marching bands at halftime with a Super Bowl style recording artist, and admittedly, with no bands in the building this would be the year to do it. But if they were to pick up the IMB performance, they would solidify a fact that marching bands are an inextricable part of college football, in a year where they've gone sorely missed.

I know what I'll be watching at halftime.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Half(time)hearted Preview

 It's no secret I've been less than excited for this college football season. Eventually, all ten conferences at the FBS level began play, and amid positive tests, game cancellations, and general making it up as they go along, we'd made it to the college football playoff. The selection committee has placed its four teams: Alabama, who went undefeated against a ten game SEC schedule; Notre Dame and Clemson, who split a regular season matchup and the ACC championship game with one another; and Ohio State, who played only five regular season games and a Big Ten championship game after the conference's schedule commenced in late October. Absent from the field, as always, is any Group of Five representation; this year's most deserving candidate was Cincinnati, who went undefeated in the American Athletic Conference, but never once threatened for inclusion in the eyes of the committee.

If I may use one of the pandemic's catch phrases, this year's playoff looks a little different than years prior. No bands will be present, and crowds will be sparse. Amid California's restrictions on crowds, the Rose Bowl, which hosts a semifinal this year, will take place in AT&T Stadium in Arlington. But the games will play on, with the semifinals kicking off this afternoon and evening.

The Rose Bowl will feature Alabama and Notre Dame in a game that sounds as historic as the sport itself. Surprisingly, the two teams have only met seven times in college football's history, with the last matchup being a decisive Bama victory in the penultimate BCS Championship. While the coaches remain the same, both teams have evolved since that meeting eight years ago. 

A game against one another is fresh in the muscle memory of both Clemson and Ohio State, who played to a hard fought Clemson victory in last year's semifinal. Clemson's sole loss this year came against Notre Dame, with QB Trevor Lawrence out with a positive COVID test. The two have traded barbs over their respective paths to the playoff: Clemson coach Dabo Swinney voted Ohio State #11 on his coaches poll ballot, citing their lack of games, while Ohio State offensive coordinator got in a dig at Clemson for their early season matchup against FCS in-state opponent Citadel.

Both games will feature a north vs. south dynamic that has been part of the sport since its founding in the echo of the Civil War, though neither will play out between rival conferences the Big Ten and SEC. Should Alabama and Ohio State win their matchups today, we'll see that play out in South Florida in ten days.


Sunday, December 6, 2020

Verzu5th

 

By <span title="must have been published or publicly displayed outside Wikipedia">Source</span> (<a href="//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Non-free_content_criteria#4" title="Wikipedia:Non-free content criteria">WP:NFCC#4</a>), <a href="//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Verzuz_logo.jpg" title="Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Verzuz">Fair use</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65180984">Link</a>
By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, Link

V is the Roman numeral for 5. That's mostly coincidence, but let's go with it. 

Since we were first sidelined by the global pandemic, a number of options have popped up to keep us virtually entertained. Among the most enduring of these is Verzuz, the brainchild of superproducers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, which pits a pair of artists against one another as their catalogs do battle, song for song, for a number of rounds.

Basically, a 5th quarter.

Like its band counterpart, Verzuz battles crown no champion - that's for the audience to decide. Each Verzuz has its own personality. Some have been strictly business, others all love, and some have been so tense you were sure something was going to pop off. While mutual respect generally abounds, that doesn't necessarily mean there's a shortage of bad blood or unresolved beef at play as well. 

At their best, Verzuz artists have played offense and defense. A battle is not about queuing up your 20 songs and letting the DJ play. You next song should be a response to what was played before, or vice versa. Strike and parry; parry and strike. The paradox is that while the exhibition isn't scored, to the degree it is, it's scored round for round: How did what you dropped match up with what your opponent had to say? Strategy matters. In the end, we're the ones that will score the rounds, but whether Verzuz or the 5th, one fact remains:

The audience wins.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Indy/pendent

 

However the 2021 DCI season ends in Indianapolis, they'll be short their last two World Class champions.

On Thursday, DCI announced an "event series" to take place during Championship Weekend in Indianapolis. While the full slate of performance opportunities is yet to be determined, DCI has started using the language of 2021 being a "bridge" to a full return in the summer of 2022. 

It's understandable. While the start of the season is still six months away, now is when plans would be put into place: venues booked, housing secured, schedules set - and as the pandemic rages on with no knowledge of its end, DCI is right to plan for contingencies. Moreso than perhaps any other sport or activity in the nation, a DCI tour schedule is at the behest of dozens, if not hundreds, of different regulational jurisdictions - municipal, state, national; school districts and public gathering limits; their ability to gather, rehearse, and paramount: perform for an audience are all variables when considering the viability of a season.

But as the league started talking about its plan, the two premier west coast corps - Blue Devils and Santa Clara Vanguard - have announced that they won't be making the trip to Indy, detailing their roadmap to 2022, DCI's 50th anniversary. 

If planning for a national tour is unthinkable at the current stage for most corps, it's even moreso for this Bay Area duo. While most corps boast a national tour, many eastern corps really only make it west of the Rockies once every few years, while the top flight California corps truly hit four time zones each summer they load the bus. This means they've got more to plan for, not the least of which is the financial piece. 

It looks as though those two corps intend to craft a meaningful experience for their members, just one that sticks a good deal closer to home. I expect other corps may look to do the same in their own geographic regions, whether or not they ultimately make it to Indy. Coincidentally, schedules may look a good deal more regional, harkening back to the league's early days, for the year leading into the activity's golden jubilee. As long as it will keep the corps solvent to reach that milestone, I welcome it.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Bracket Busters

 2020 just needs its own tag.

Of all of this season's anomalies, the coolest may have just come into play. This Saturday, two undefeated non-Power 5 teams, Coastal Carolina and BYU, will play - on College Gameday, no less. This game didn't exist 24 hours ago. Coastal was set to host Liberty, currently a 9-1 Independent on College Gameday before COVID-19 changed the Flames' plans. The game could prove bountiful for one of two teams jockeying for a New Years Six bowl and an outside shot at the College Football Playoff.

This game isn't the first to come into play quickly as teams seek to duct tape their schedules back together amid COVID cancellations, but it may just be the most meaningful. It also represents an agility we've never seen before in college football, where games are typically scheduled many years in advance. The sport's usual scheduling paradigm leads to schools trying to schedule formidable opponents based on their current rankings, hoping they'll still be good enough to positively affect strength of schedule years from now. Now, both Coastal and BYU get to ink a deal with a team they already know is in the committee's top 25, with a resume boost on the line.

The concept is similar to the Bracket Busters concept, where late season flex dates gave the opportunity for tournament hopeful mid-majors to improve their fortune in advance of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. In college football, while this game alone likely won't do it for either team, the flexibility it represents could present a path forward for future Group of Five teams who lack the perceived strength of schedule to get them the postseason they deserve.

There may not be a ton to celebrate or emulate from this year, but this one's a keeper.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Deceptive Cadence


 When I added the tagline "The Cadence of Gameday" to 80 Minutes of Regulation, the double entendre was intentional. As a bandsman generally, and a drummer specifically, I know that the cadence is the drumbeat that  gets us going and keeps us going through the day's marching. But the cadence is also the pace of gameday in its entirety: While it was the pairing of marching band and sports that breathed life into this site, it soon expanded to include all of gameday, from the tailgate lot before hand, to the pregame, the game, halftime, the fifth quarter, the victory shakos after a win, all of it. 

This year, the cadence is deceptive.

Like so many other things in the Year of our Lord Two Thousand Twenty, the cadence of gameday just doesn't hit as it ought to. Tailgates are nonexistent at stadiums that are only a fraction full. Bands are all but sneaking into the stadiums to avoid any situation that may draw an unwanted crowd. And once they're there, they don't get to take the field, performing socially distanced in the stands, sometimes in platoons composed of only a portion of the band. 

This week is typically the valley between rivalry week and conference championship games, and even that looks different. With the end of the season still weeks away, some traditional rivalries have moved as well, while conference-only schedules have kept others from occurring at all. The College Football Playoff committee just released its third rankings, going through the unenviable task of comparing teams with uneven games played and next to no intersectional competition as a basis for comparison. 

The bowls are empowered to do as they please, with no minimum win or records standards because, hell, it's 2020.  37 remain, down slightly from last year, and they will likely play to mostly empty stadiums without bands present. The annual Band on the Road series was cancelled this year for obvious reasons, and the same will certainly be true of #bowlbands, save perhaps for the cases where a team is playing a home game in a bowl. We'll make it to the finish line of this year, even crown a champion, but the entire season's cadence has been anything but typical.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Contact




In less than 24 hours, there will be live college football.

With all due respect to Central Arkansas and Austin Peay, who played in a "Week 0" matchup last weekend, the sport continues at the FBS level this week as the Sun Belt, American, and Conference USA begin play. Power 5 play begins a week later with the ACC and Big 12, and the SEC, content to let the other conferences serve as cannon fodder to any potential setbacks, resumes play in what most would call Week 4 on the last Saturday in September.

To be frank, I was doubtful we'd get to this point. Once the Big Ten and Pac 12 announced the postponement of their seasons, I thought the other Power 5 leagues would follow suit. Even once none of the remaining three made the immediate move, I thought for sure that UNC, NC State, and Notre Dame going to online only instruction temporarily or permanently might force the ACC's hand. But while there's still a week plus until the remaining P5 leagues kick off, it seems to be full speed ahead.

It's not the choice I would make if I were in a vacuum the likes of which no actual decision maker enjoys. I certainly would have erred on the conservative side and been alongside the Big Ten and Pac 12 in postponing the season. But now that the toothpaste is out of the tube, I'm rooting for a successful season, if for only one reason: It means that this season took place safely.

Above all else, I'm rooting for safety. I would far rather be "wrong" and have the season go off without a hitch, because "right" means that players got infected, got sick, or even died as we put college football's "student athletes" into harm's way to financially prop up athletic departments and universities. Wrong means that the plans, protocols, and safety measures are working. Wrong means a path forward for college football, certainly, but maybe for us all.

But selfishly, as a fan, wrong could mean one more thing. If the six conferences that play find a successful way forward, the Big Ten, Pac 12, MAC, and Mountain West, who have been using "postponed" language with regards to their fall season, and some seem to be mulling tentative plans at a season that starts at the very end of 2020 or early 2021. Consider this: The Rose Bowl is locked in as a College Football Playoff semifinal site for this season. If their traditional conferences, the Big Ten and Pac 12, play in the spring, could the Granddaddy of 'em All have its cake and eat it too with a spring Rose Bowl? It would certainly be the best possible end to an unorthodox, bifurcated season.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Black All Over

I've stuck pretty close to home since mid-March when coronavirus changed so much here in the US. It was a quest for beer that got me out.

To be fair, it was more than beer. Black Is Beautiful is a nationwide collaboration spearheaded by Weathered Souls, a Black-owned brewery in San Antonio, TX. On the heels of the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent uprisings, Weathered Souls started a collaboration and a conversation, with beer as the vehicle. The collaboration was Black is Beautiful, an open source beer recipe made available to any brewery or home brewer who wanted to try their hand at it. Participating breweries were asked to donate their proceeds to "local foundations that support police brutality reform and legal defenses for those who have been wronged" or  "local organizations that support equality and inclusion"  While also committing to "the long term work of equality." Breweries from all 50 states, several countries, and home brewers signed on to the project, which meant any enterprising beerhead could stake out on a mission. I was such a beerhead.

I identified five breweries within an hourish drive of me who were brewing their own takes on Black is Beautiful, and inadvertently ended up with a sixth before I was done. While none of the eight breweries here in Greensboro participated, there were a few options in the Triad and just beyond.

My first trip was out to Wise Man, who did a version with chocolate and raspberries. Next released was across state lines - my first such trip since before March - to Ballad Brewing up in Danville. As far as I can tell, they went with the base recipe, but did a great job with it.

The other four came in the same weekend, as July gave way to August. I headed out on Friday to Kernersville Brewing, where they had their version on draft, and came home with a crowler. A trip down to Ikea in Charlotte also led to a stop by NoDa (and Divine Barrel, but they were unexpectedly closed) - while I wasn't heading down to all of Charlotte's myriad options, those in north Charlotte were accessible enough. NoDa altered the normal stout recipe into a dark pilsner. Sunday was for points east; Forgotten Road Ales in Graham, and Durty Bull in Durham. Forgotten Road offered the most options: A mixed four pack with their base recipe and coconut, chocolate hazelnut, and cinnamon vanilla varieties, while Durty Bull partnered with fellow Durhamites Jeddah's Tea for a chai version.

And while that ended my personal quest, I saved some for trade - both with a specific friend and potentially for future use - and I might mess around and do a vertical of what I've got at some point. And while I appreciate the project as a beer fan, I'm hoping it did what is set out to: Start the conversation.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Empty Promises

As the world continues to reel from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, sports in general and college football specifically are trying to figure out their path to return.

I'm just going to have to make my peace with the fact that this will be outdated nearly as soon as it posts, as the landscape of college sports, specifically college football's 2020 season, evolves rapidly.
To timestamp this: I write in the waning hour of July 9; it will likely post just beyond the midnight threshold. I'm reasonably certain the news cycle has wound down for the day. From there, I've probably got at least eight hours - likely 12, because announcements often come around mid-day, after morning meetings - before the landscape changes once more.

In the past 48 hours alone, we've learned that the Ivy League became the first Division I conference to decide not to compete this fall; Division II's SIAC and CIAA have stated the same, functionally ending all HBCU competition at the D-II level. The Big Ten will play only conference games; the ACC is reportedly considering the same, having already delayed the start of competition for its Olympic sports until at least September 1. Bands in the Big 12 will not travel to road games. Before this, we already learned about the cancellation of several neutral site games, including the Southern Heritage Classic and Black College Football Hall of Fame Classic; the NAIA not starting competition until at least September 12, and the American Athletic Conference not allowing bands on the field at all.

All of these steps are being taken to preserve some semblance of a season as we know it, but are we moving towards a safer product that can resume in the fall, or rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?

College football sits amid a quagmire of sports, culture, education, politics, and the almighty dollar that make a decision to cancel or not particularly complicated. The major professional leagues are all making their plans for a return: NASCAR's back already, racing to empty speedways; MLB will return at the end of the month with a shortened season and regionalized action; MLS has returned to a World Cup style tournament in a quasi-Olympic village in Orlando; the NBA is doing similar when their season returns in three weeks. And save for a remote draft, the NFL, whose start date laid the latest from the initial COVID-19 interruptions has soldiered on towards its September start as though there is no pandemic.

College football is different. The sport has no central leadership structure; even the NCAA barely holds sway at the sports highest level, where the championship is decided by a proprietary invitational playoff. Teams in the FBS play in 41 states, 10 conferences, myriad state university systems, and municipalities ranging from college towns to major metropolitan areas, each of which make decisions that affect the sport, and each of which is making their own decisions for their constituencies about what is in their best interest during this pandemic.

One of the first hurdles: Are students even returning to campus for an in-person fall semester? Most are, in many cases with some modifications including hybrid or online courses and campus social distancing, face covering, and testing or self monitoring protocols. Still, social distancing efforts are for naught with up to 400 in a band room playing wind instruments, or gathered in a locker room before taking the field to engage in a collision sport. There have already been spikes in positive tests among players at both of this past year's championship contenders, LSU and Clemson. 

Social distancing also becomes tricky when it comes to the 100,000+ seat cathedrals at which we worship college football each fall Saturday. There has been talk of diminishing capacity in such a way that allows attendees to social distance, but I think that's the most you can do to limit it. Unlike the professional leagues, where athletes earning into the millions are competing, it takes quite the ethical limbo to tell the student-athletes - a term we love to sling when it's convenient - that they can risk their health without compensation when it's deemed unsafe for their classmates to watch from the stands.

The athletes, meanwhile, are competing in an ecosystem that contains 130 teams at the sports highest level alone. Even if each conference restricts simply to league play, as the Big Ten has, playing puts each player into direct or indirect contact with over 1,000 players per conference, to say nothing of coaches, support staff, and others on campus with whom each of them are in contact. 

The sport is predicated on travel, for both the teams and the fans. The season brings travel into communities like Starkville and State College, Columbia and Corvallis. One of the early illustrations on the virus' spread in the US tracked those who spent Spring Break in Florida and returned to their hometowns afterwards. Consider that same model playing out over a 12 game season from hundreds of campus sites. And limiting or even eliminating in stadium crowds may do little to limit that. Outside of perhaps the NFL and NASCAR - and for the latter of these, much of it occurs within gates that the league controls - college football's tailgate culture is such that even if fans can't get in the stadium, it may take a small army to keep them from showing up for their Saturday parking lot ritual and watching the game from their rig.

But the show must go on - or at least, it will try its damndest. To lose the season would cause grievous, if not catastrophic, financial damage to many institutions' athletic departments. In many cases, college football revenue keeps the lights on for the rest of the athletic department, and in the top programs, much of the university as well, be it through directly generated ticket and TV revenue or the rest of the industrial complex that commands alumni and donor giving, merchandise sales, parking, concessions, and even a sizable boost to the local economy as campuses become one of the largest cities in their respective states for a Saturday afternoon a half dozen or so times a year. College football is also a key driver in the spirit of their community and the psychological sense of belonging. A pandemic rages on, and the return of football would allow to believe in whatever normal is.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Let's Go, Wildcats

Image from swac.org
The SWAC train hadn't finished boarding before departing Florida.

Three weeks ago, the FAMU Rattlers announced that this coming year in the MEAC will be their last, and now their rival and statemate Bethune Cookman will be following in their footsteps. BCU and FAMU will be joined in departure by North Carolina A&T, who will head to the Big South for the 2021-22 academic year. While many factors likely led to Bethune's decision, the writing on the wall for the MEAC had to be among them.

BCU is an interesting geographic outlier. When you remove nearby FAMU, The Wildcats' trip to their next four closest Division I HBCUs is longer than anyone else's. The move to the SWAC makes their longest stretch a bit longer - 1,000 miles to Prairie View vs. just under 900 to Delaware State - but there's something to be said for knowing your conference will be there tomorrow, which was on increasingly shaky ground in the MEAC. Divisional play will also minimize some of the longest trips.

BCU also likely considered a shared fate with FAMU, with whom they've been conferencemates in the SIAC and MEAC since 1950, save for a couple of brief departures for FAMU. The dual move will keep the Florida Classic a conference game, and it will join an already rich slate of intraconference SWAC classics. The addition of BCU and FAMU in the east will certainly also necessitate the shifting of divisions. The new balance would send one of the Mississippi schools to the west; geography would dictate it be Alcorn, though a Jackson State move would keep the BoomBox classic divisional.

Down to six football playing members after the moves, the MEAC is feeling mighty Big Eastish. The remaining schools have to be looking for the exits; it has already been a reported conversation among Delaware State's Board of Trustees, and any other school would be shortsighted not to be having the same conversations. For schools wishing to remain Division I, the Big South, which will already be home to two HBCUs may be the best fit for many as nearly all of the remaining conference falls within or only slightly extends the Big South's footprint. All or parts of the league also share geographical ties with the Southern Conference, Patriot League, Colonial Athletic Association, and Northeast Conference. If schools see fit to end their run at the Division I level, most of the conference is former members of the Divisions II CIAA. The folks at HBCU Gameday also floated the emergence of a new conference.

A loss of the MEAC would also mean the end of the Celebration Bowl, unless they re-evaluated selection. Currently, the game pits the champions of the MEAC and SWAC against one another to determine Black college football's champion. If the MEAC were to continue, four time champion North Carolina A&T would no longer be in the running. The bowl could continue as a SWAC vs. Everybody competition - a move that puts Tennessee State, previously the only Division I HBCU not in an all HBCU conference, in the running for the first time - or take the overall best two records, which could result in either a SWAC rematch or the conference's exclusion. To lose the bowl altogether would destage a major HBCU presence during college football's postseason. But I would imagine there's no determination to be made there until all of the realignment dust settles.
discussion by

Labels