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Friday, May 26, 2017

Southern Hospitality

South Carolina is making big things happen from a tourism and hospitality standpoint.

I first saw it in action last month. While attending the Men of Color National Summit - hosted by Clemson in Greenville, SC - it was clear that the city of Greenville and Greenville County were fully committed to the conference, its mission, and the wellbeing of the guests to their region. The mayor and other public officials addressed conferencegoers, welcoming us. Many municipal agencies were showcasing in the hallways of the convention center. Greenville seemed fully committed to putting their best foot forward and meeting the needs of the conference, which they will host again next year.

Apparently that hospitality's not limited to the Upstate.

In the Marching Podcast's episode with National Collegiate Marching Band Championships and Festival founder Bob Lane, Lane spoke of the connections in Columbia that were committed not only to pulling off the first event, but to keeping it in Columbia as a point of pride and eventual destination for band fans nationwide. No less than the mayor are part of the team that is bringing this event to the Palmetto State's capital.

It's worth noting: With the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds in 2015, South Carolina only recently gained back the right to host NCAA postseason play. While I don't know what other embargos other industries may have placed on the state, I"m certain that bringing business into - or back into - SC has been a priority. Judging from at least these two events, they're committed to making it happen.

The 'Ship

If you're like me, you lost your mind when you learned of the National Collegiate Marching Band Championships and Festival coming this year to Columbia, SC in early December. Still, upon its initial announcement, I found myself with more questions than answers. I knew they'd be answered in time, and as luck would have it, Friend of the Program Joe Beard over at The Marching Podcast chopped it up with the event's founder, Bob Lane, and got the answers we've all been waiting for.

Check out the podcast here.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Calvert & Crossland

Tomorrow's a big day in the Old Line State. In Baltimore alone, The Preakness Stakes will run its 142nd edition. Across town, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Orioles will celebrate Maryland their own way. with Maryland flag-inspired uniforms, including the iconic Calvert and Crossland patterns on the bill of their hat and on the jersey's script.

No sir, I don't like it.

This may come as a surprise to those who know I'm a Maryland flag apologist. But the reason this design annoys me is the same reason I have passed on any number of similarly patterned items in Ocean City each summer. The flag doesn't need to be tiled. Two instances each of Calvert and Crossland will suffice. Tiling makes an already busy pattern obnoxious, even to me.

And by the way, O's, with another team playing just outside the state's borders and claiming DMV loyalties, don't think I don't see what you're doing as you Celebrate Maryland.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Give'em Hell

"I know the Tar Heel song," my six year old daughter said to me on the morning after the Heels won the men's basketball national championship. "Rah rah, Car'lina-lina," she continued, and I found myself intrigued by the impending denouement. "Rah rah, Car'lina-lina, Rah rah, Car'lina-lina, go to *pfft* Duke!"

I don't know who taught her the fight song. There is a boy in her class who she has said is a Tar Heel, and I suspect her teacher may also be complicit. She's a kindergarten aged North Carolina native, so I suppose it's about time she started crafting her allegiance. My wife and I aren't from here, so should she come away with a North Carolina ACC allegiance, I'm reasonably agnostic as to which. We're tax paying citizens and I'm employed by the UNC system, so either Carolina or State could make sense. We live in the Triad, so I wouldn't be against Wake. Put another way, I'm agnostic against who for, but adamant as to who against.

While I'm pleased whoever taught her the song opted for the radio edit, I noted that had they not, she certainly wouldn't be the first southern kid whose first foray into minor oaths is related to a college sports allegiance. The South corners the market on on Hell in fight songs, spirit songs, and changes - go to hell, give 'em hell, to hell with, beat the hell outta, who the hell are we, and helluvan engineer are all southern mainstays. The north hardly registers any ticks: Illinois's Don't Send My Boy to Harvard and Johns Hopkins' To Win are among the exceptions, and you can't even count the latter without a vigorous debate on Baltimore and Maryland's status as a southern city/state. Perhaps it makes sense that in the Bible Belt, Hell is so readily associated with the enemy. Or maybe it's just the elevation of athletic rivalries to biblical proportions. 


Halftime

Perhaps my biggest mistake was allowing three years' precedent to lure me into a false sense of security.

The change I once feared - the College Football Playoff National Championship halftime giving way to a recording artist instead of the marching bands as God intended - has been realized. Starting with the 2017-18 championship game this coming January, there will be a Super Bowl-style performance during halftime of the television broadcast, this year live from Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park.

First, the good news: For us poor band nerds watching the game from home, the experience won't change too terribly much. The marching bands will still perform in the Stankonia Dome, and their performance will reportedly still be available on ESPN's Megacast as the Mothership airs the performance from Centennial Olympic Park. It will be easy enough for us to ignore Nickelback in favor of the Million Dollar Band (or whoever). While I fear the network's deemphasis of a proper halftime may ultimately push it out entirely in a matter of years, there doesn't yet seem to be anything to fear for the home viewer with this first go round.

If I make my way down to Atlanta as I intend, I'll be in a weird spot. The game, and the halftime that comes with it, will likely be financially out of reach. The recording artist halftime show will be available to my for free - and everything I've sworn myself against. Since the Playoff is offering the halftime show in the park for free, I think it's only fair they do the same for the actual halftime show in the stadium.

Waiting for April to Deliver

Don't worry, this isn't about a giraffe.

I managed to go nearly the entire month of April (and now half of May, but who's counting?) without a post  April's always a light month for me, both with the sports I follow most closely ending early in the month with the Final Four, and the frenetic pace that is working in higher ed in the month of April. To at least acknowledge that the month existed, I want to at least hit a few highlights.

-Carolina won the national championship in men's basketball (Yes, Carolina. Full stop.) South Carolina took home the women's hoops championship.
-Wichita State joined the American Athletic Conference, effective July 1, 2017. As a non-football school, they round out the scheduling void that Navy leaves as a football-only school.
-Starved for football (and a short road trip on a beautiful day), I headed to Wake Forest for their spring game.
-My friend Stacey set the record straight when our home state Goldey-Beacom College tried to come for arts education.
-The Stanford Band hired a director. Like a real live director, with credentials and everything. Not to be too glib or compare serious situations, but that he comes from supporting Baylor football to directing the Stanford Band is notable.
-At a conference for work hosted by Clemson, I got to hear from members of Clemson's national championship football team and Desmond Howard.
-And finally, reaching slightly into May, my wife did the Flying Pig half marathon in Cincinnati, which meant I got to head to a Reds game (and proudly wear green and gold in Bearcat country).

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming, which will hopefully be more regularly scheduled.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Carolina

This ain't politically correct. This might offend my political connects. -Jay-Z

Minutes from now, the University of South Carolina will tip off against Gonzaga in the first game of the men's Final Four. Immediately following, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will take on Oregon for the right at the second spot in the national championship game. Does the possibility exist that we'd have Carolina vs. Carolina?

No.

If you ever catch me using the term "Carolina" otherwise unqualified, It's the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Period.

It might seems strange for those who know I'm not always keen on letting flagships sit on simply the state name (most notably the University of Maryland at College Park). So why let the team in light blue take up two?

I would imagine part of it is the marketing machine. Even if both schools' machines hum at a similar clip, I've lived in NC for nearly 12 years and work elsewhere in the university system, so it's no surprise that one hits me closer. From a logical standpoint, UNC wins the age battle, predating South Carolina and laying contested claim to being the oldest public institution in America.

But perhaps no small part of it is that I've incorporated at least a bit of the NC pastime of disdain towards SC. Long before it was one of Mary Oates Spratt Van Landingham's "mountains of conceit," Lesser Carolina has been locked into a sibling rivalry with its northern neighbor. So while I have nothing personal against the University of South Carolina, letting the Mighty Sound of the Southeast camp on simply "The Carolina Band" is about as close as I get to calling the school in Columbia Carolina.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Seeding the Field

1. 2. 3. 4. 7. 8. 11.

These are the seeds that advanced to the second weekend of the tournament. More often than not, seeds held: Three 1s, two 2s, two 3s and three 4s made it through as intended, with just enough lower seeds to keep the madness mad. And while one can't use tournament success or failure to justify or dispute seeding, it's worth asking how they all got there.

I live in ACC country, where there was a good deal of either crowing or handwringing about UNC being a 1 seed and Duke being a 2. Duke took two of three from the Heels during the season, including in the ACC Tournament semifinals en route to Duke's tournament championship. The Tar Heels, who won the regular season championship, cruised into the 1 seed many had projected them in. That wasn't the only place where Duke found themselves on the foul side of seeding and placement: They fell in the second round to a (now Final Four bound) South Carolina squad who got the luxury of playing in their home state - albeit in Clemson's upstate - thanks to HB2.

Elsewhere in the bracket, Wichita State was criminally underseeded as a 10, and while Kentucky was able to squeak by en route to the Elite Eight, it certainly did the Wildcats no favors. To that point, it's not the underseeded team, but the team that has to play them that gets hosed. Number 1 overall seed Villanova, for example, got knocked off in the second round by a Wisconsin squad that would've been a likely 5 seed via KenPom and got reseeded by ESPN as a 1.

What, then, is the purpose of seeding? Much as I've asked with college football rankings: Do you get the seed you earn, or the seed your deserve? Teams, especially high performing mid-majors, get hamstrung by their ability to schedule tough, and subsequently become someone else's problem come tournament time. If the goal of the tournament is to give everyone the path of ease fitting of their efficacy, wouldn't we minimize upsets? Is a little mis-seeding a good thing?

If they want to get seeding right - or at least a version of right - there are quite a few stats that can be your guide. I shouted out KenPom earlier, and I think most would agree his metrics are part of the equation. We've always known seeding to be just as much art as science; there's always some massaging that needs to take place based on teams getting hot at the right time, or losing key players to injury or suspension. The good news is every indication is the NCAA wants to get it right, so here's hoping they move beyond "we've always done it this way" into "this is the best way to do it."

Friday, March 24, 2017

Bracket Creep

I'm not in the habit of biting the hand that feeds me. I'm just calling it like I see it.

My college football allegiance - my graduate alma mater, USF - has played in such prestigious postseason contests as the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the PapaJohns.com Bowl, and the magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl. When I've entertained the "too many bowls?" question in the past, I've acknowledged that downsizing would directly affect my team's prospects.

In college hoops, my attention is more scattered. I have two alma maters and an employer, all of whom play college ball (and a flagship I occasionally keep half an eye on), and through them, I've learned about the expanding field of college basketball's postseason.

Let's set aside the NIT for a moment. At this point, it's a mainstay. It's the Outback Bowl - it sits outside the power structure, but it's got enough respect to make its own way as a viable postseason foray, except perhaps by those who had their sites set higher. But in the past few seasons, in addition to the NIT and WNIT, teams I follow have played in the College Basketball Invitational and the Women's (College) Basketball Invitational (where UNCG is now a finalist!).

But here's the kicker: UMBC's in the postseason as well, still playing and hosting a quarterfinal matchup this weekend. I first learned of this in a video on Facebook where our president was talking about postseason play. Being the impatient social media consumer I am, I immediately googled UMBC CBI. After all, I knew we weren't in the NCAA Tournament or the NIT, so what else is there? This is when I learned of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. The field is full of mid-majors who had seasons that they're probably proud of, but that clearly didn't qualify them for any of the other three tournaments. It's great to still be playing, and I know I started by saying that I don't like to bite the hand that feeds me...

...but their broadcast partner? Facebook Live.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Don't Slam the Gate City

You don't wanna go to war with the 'Boro.

Syracuse head men's basketball coach Jim Boeheim has made it clear he doesn't believe the ACC Tournament belongs in Greensboro, its often home and site of the conference headquarters. Boeheim, who grew accustomed to Big East conference tournaments in Madison Square Garden, had nothing kind to say back in 2011 as the Orange headed to the ACC and by extension, Greensboro; he doubled down on his disdain this past week, stating that there's "no value to playing in Greensboro. None." Greensboro's clapback hit all the news cycles in the sports world and beyond.




via GIPHY

Not only the city of Greensboro, but ACC traditionalists jumped to Greensboro's defense, letting Jim know that if he wanted to stay out of Greensboro altogether, there are conferences for that, and they're not named the ACC.

But the story didn't end there. A selection committee with a sense of humor and/or a flair for the dramatic decided to pit Syracuse against UNC Greensboro in the NIT. The seeding may or may not have warranted this, but it wouldn't be the first time the NCAA tweaked a matchup to get a better storyline in a lesser-followed tournament - see also: UD vs. DelState in the FCS playoffs a decade ago. The Spartans, it should be noted, will be headed to play in the postseason in a city about half Greensboro's size, but I've heard no grousing about it yet. Quite the contrary: UNCG is excited for the opportunity and has a city and state behind it.

There's something beautiful when a city and its namesake university are synergistic and the citizens truly see the school and its teams as an extension of themselves. UNCG's conferencemate UT Chattanooga's pep band has Rep Yo City on the books. Systemmate UNC Charlotte goes simply by Charlotte athletically, wrapping their arms around the largest metro in the Carolinas. And in a statement that works on multiple levels, Georgia Tech is proud to "Put On" for its city, playing Atlanta product Young Jeezy's hit. Still, here in Greensboro, UNCG isn't the only Division I team in town, and in a state where basketball allegiances are forged before birth, the Spartans haven't fully linked arm in arm with Greensboro just yet. But now, UNCG marches into the Carrier Dome to defend the city's honor. A victory seems improbable - UNCG has just two wins all time over ACC foes (thanks, Techs) but this Spartan program that fell just short of the conference tournament championship may just reverse the fortune of General Greene and the Spartans at Thermopylae and leave the Dome with a victory. If they can, it may be the shiningest moment the NIT has ever produced.
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