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Sunday, November 25, 2018

What A Sport

Oh, college football, you strange, magnificent, maddening, amazing creature.

A critical mass of fans just got done watching a game that went seven overtimes, with 91 points scored after the ultimately losing coach was doused in Gatorade prematurely.  In the stadium, Collin put it best:




Lacking the SEC Network, both in general and here in my hotel room in Baltimore, I "watched" via ESPN Gamecast and Twitter updates, hanging on every refresh. Nothing captivates like college football.

The sport is not without its idiosyncrasies. Unlike any other sport, nearly half of the teams will end their season with a win, thanks to the one-off nature of nearly every bowl game. And unlike any other sport, nearly half of the teams have no viable path to a championship, regardless of their own performance. The former fact is kinda cool. The latter is a travesty.

College football also provides the greatest opportunity for a financial disincentive for winning. Hypothetically, Texas A&M could have cost its conference millions by winning the game, likely knocking a now three loss, previously seventh ranked LSU down in the rankings. Realistically, they could still catch a New Year's Six spot, the void could be filled by a conferencemate like Florida, and even if not, the SEC is flush with cash anyhow. But consider: A week from now, Texas could end any hopes for a Big 12 spot in the Playoff by defeating Oklahoma. Or worse, Memphis could beat UCF, dropping them not only from the playoff spot they've got no chance at, but from the New Year's Six entirely, as the Mountain West champ would then likely be the highest ranked Group of Five champion. More than a decade ago, Pitt defeated West Virginia in the now-defunct Backyard Brawl to cost the Mountaineers a spot in the BCS championship game and the Big East the millions that came with that appearance and the only possibility for an appearance for the conference following the departure of Miami and Virginia Tech. In no other sport can one so directly work against their own self interest.

This sport, man.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Greatest


The Greatest Homecoming On Earth just got greater.

Earlier this month, North Carolina A&T's homecoming added a new element. Dubbed "The Battle and the Blowout," the Friday night slot typically reserved for the step show became a combined step show/battle of the bands, featuring A&T's Blue and Gold Marching Machine, and their homecoming opponent Norfolk State's Spartan Legion. While there was never a question as to whether I would attend, I was intrigued by how exactly they planned to combine the two.

For those who don't know, by day I'm a fraternity and sorority life advisor, and for far longer, I've been a fan of the art of stepping, so I was there for the combo. Still, it was clear from stepping into the arena that no one, myself included, was there for the step show portion. And if that was the sentiment throughout the arena, it was twice that where I sat - the "Heathen Section," with The 5th Quarter's co-founder Christy and many more 5th denizens.

After entrances, A&T began the opening salvo in a move that seemed counterintuitive but well planned. By playing first, the Aggies let Spartan Legion call their shot in the first volley, and the green and gold definitely brought it. The set up for the round was two volleys, so with a A&T/Norfolk/Norfolk/A&T format, BGMM ensured they'd use their home field advantage to bat last.

Then there was a commercial break, or rather step performance. The bandheads took it as exactly that, so much as hitting the concession stands and freshening up drinks. We would receive just three such impositions - Phi Beta Sigma and Sigma Gamma Rho competing, and Kappa Alpha Psi in exhibition.

To A&T's credit, they were committed to the seamless integration of bands and stepping, and planned their programming accordingly. In the section battles, both Golden Delight (auxiliary) and Cold Steel (drumline) put together programs that followed a step show style format, with Golden Delight using a NASCAR theme and including video as so many step shows do these days. Spartan Legion either didn't get the memo or chose not to play along, instead bringing what they would to any matchup.

To the Greensboro (and bandhead) crowd, Blue and Gold Marching Machine was a known commodity, but I think the consensus was pleased and even pleasantly surprised with what Spartan Legion brought to the table, both in that event and throughout the weekend. One of my favorite renditions from them was of Lucid Dreams, which got some burn in the media, social and otherwise:


While there's no doubt A&T's homecoming game will always feature a battle of the bands as long as there's another band in the stands, a format that brings it to a standalone (or mostly alone) ought to remain a GHOE mainstay.

Monday, November 12, 2018

IDFWUNFL: An Update

Last night, The Philadelphia Eagles played the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. Living in the market of another NFC team, it was one of the few times I could be sure I could catch the Birds in action, and again Dallas, no less.

Not only did I not watch, I checked the score with the Eagles down a score in the 4th quarter, and couldn't be bothered to turn it on or check the final score, not knowing of the loss until this morning.

I spent last season without the NFL, before predictably backsliding once my team made, and ultimately won, the Super Bowl. As this season began, I casually lifted what had been an out-and-out ban of the league, wearing apparel once more and catching pieces of the occasional game. I don't have a solid reason why I let the league back in. Perhaps the time off wasn't sustainable. Maybe it's because Kap's getting paid, even if not by them. Maybe it's because for all of the NFL's ills, my team's all right. But the shift had already occurred. An already well-worn path had calcified. I spend my Saturdays focused on college football, and spend my Sundays also focused on college football, further aided by Solid Verbal and Best Week Ever episodes that air Sunday recaps. So while the NFL is not completely gone, it's been significantly deemphasized.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Look

Back when USF unveiled their new Adidas uniforms this summer, there was one look that caught my eye. A look so wrong, yet so right. The Bulls wore it in game for the first time this past weekend at Homecoming.

Most of my uniform nerd sensibilities should lead me to hate this combo. It's black for black's sake. It contains shades of our colors that aren't actually ours. Some would be inclined to call it gawdy, and frankly they wouldn't be wrong.

Yet somehow, I love it.

It's flashy, and uses its bright colors in a way that look downright sharp. It was probably designed to go over well with "the kids," and while I'm decidedly not them, it's got me hooked. So while I prefer seeing us in the proper green an gold most of the time, this one can stay.

Here's what can't.

Apparently, it's rebrand season. My employer, UNC Greensboro, just underwent a rebrand - excuse me, "brand refresh" of both the athletic and institutional logos prior to the start of this school year. UMBC sent out a survey to alumni and stakeholders back in late August asking us to weigh in on a few options for an update to the institutional logo. And just recently, USF released - and quickly began pushing something fierce - a new institutional logo. It has been pretty unilaterally rejected by those of us with ties to the university - myself included.

Upon seeing just the logo,  a few things struck me. First, as many have noted, it immediately evokes the Merrill Lynch logo. I've been inclined to point out Johnson C. Smith as well. The bull used departs from our history as Brahmans (though admittedly, that ship sailed long ago). And while I just praised the mismatch for an alternate uniform above, it strays from our school colors, opting instead for green and "USF Horizon" - a shade of yellow that hearkens back to a previous colorway. I've admittedly been loud wrong being curmudgeonly and protesting a brand change before, but I remain unconvinced there was a need to stray from the previous institutional logo. Moreover, there's no need to incorporate the athletic mascot into the imagery of the institutional logo. If there was a change to be made, this ain't it, fam.

But if we whiffed on the logo, we doubled down on the messaging.

The website for our "new era" offers a hamfisted justification for the change. Our old brand "lacked awareness," citing meager numbers of parents and students who recognized the institutional brand. The one that literally  says "USF" and "University of South Florida" on it. A strawman argument that our brand lacked a consistent look presents a mosaic of identities including secondary and tertiary athletic marks (which will remain unchanged), division, unit, and student organization logos. In fact, that particular visual piece actually does a better job of showing how effectively the previous institutional logo shines through when used  for system campuses and academic units. It speaks of the story that's gone untold - again, unchanged by the institutional logo, but part of the brand packaging - and offers the backronym United we Shape the Future. Perhaps most egregiously, it positions as our primary belief "Ambition over Tradition." I wasn't alone in seeing that as a slap in the face to the many traditions myself and thousands of other proud alumni had the opportunity to help shape. It's not that I don't understand what they're going for: USF was founded more than a century after the state institutions we strive to emulate. The attempt is akin to that which Iota Phi Theta articulates far better with "Building a tradition, not just resting upon one". But to position ambition over tradition, rather than highlight our tradition of ambition, is a huge misstep in the eyes of many.

After the reveal of a logo they undoubtedly paid a marketing firm a whole lot of money to develop, they've been trying to make fetch happen in every venue, despite immense negative feedback from alumni and other stakeholders.

I am among them.

Monday, October 22, 2018

My Mind's Playing Tricks On Me

Or perhaps our record is.

If the title brought the Geto Boys' top single to mind, it's by design. This weekend, USF travels' to their hometown of Houston to take on the Coogs. I know I'm not the only USF fan who fears this is where we get exposed as fraudulent on the scoreboard.

I'd say USF has enjoyed an undefeated season to this point, but the degree to which that's been "enjoyed" varies from Bull to Bull. At 7-0, our record defies our acumen, where the good guys needed every last second to eke out a win against Tulsa and not much less against UConn, neither of which has an FBS win against anyone other than each other since this time last year. USF playing the role of cardiac cattle doesn't leave me with high hopes against a hard charging Houston team.

A loss to Houston in the final weekend of October (that game a hurricane reschedule) is what dropped the Bulls from the ranks of the unbeaten last year. Here's hoping history doesn't repeat itself.

Want far better reporting on all things USF and the Undefeated Blues? Check out The Daily Stampede.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Let the Band Play

In a post that's gotten significant attention from bandheads, Tennessee State Assistant Director of Bands James Sexton shared the game script from their game vs. Austin Peay. Of note: The schedule is filled to the hilt with announcements and commercials. Conspicuously absent: Opportunities for the band to play.



My immediate thought is curiosity about how often road bands face this, and if the Aristocrat of Bands finds itself at a particular disadvantage playing in the Ohio Valley Conference. Prior to Hampton's conference move this year, Tennessee State was the only Division I HBCU not playing in either the MEAC or the SWAC. As such, they share a conference with schools that simply don't care as much about the band as they do. As the SEC says about their football: It Just Means More.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Band on the Road Game of the Week - 2018 Week 8

Sometimes, dreams do come true.

This weekend, College Game Day will be at Washington State University. For the past fifteen years, a cadre of Washington State alumni and fans have ensured that ol' Crimson flies over each College Game Day set - 216 shows and counting. Now it's coming home in the show's first trip to Pullman, where the Pac-12 North's two best records will square off as Oregon comes to town.

With all of that excitement, it's almost an undercard that the Oregon Marching Band will also make the trip, a nearly eight hour trek out to the Palouse that's been on the schedule since Band on the Road was compiled this summer. Their presence will only add to the electricity of gameday at Washington State.

High Notes - 2018 Week 7

It's that weekend.

Homecoming has a high notes slot pretty much every year. How could it not? By function of my role, it's always going to dominate one college football Saturday. But just as importantly, it's always going to be a a high note.

My love for my two alma maters is well documented. But this year, I came to a realization: Homecoming at UNC Greensboro (which, full disclosure, I help plan) may hold a bigger place in my heart than either one of them. Plotting my hierarchy in allegiance is easy for me: Undergrad > Grad > Employer. But my longevity here gives me a much wider base of returning alumni than either alma mater would. After all, I've interacted with 13 years of students here, vs. four at UMBC and two at USF. I'm certain to see a few of my contemporaries when I return for homecoming (and I've not been to either since 2006  and 2007, respectively) but every homecoming at UNCG brings back scores of former students who I am genuinely excited to see. This year was no different.

Amazing Happens Every Saturday

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

It's been a long time since a viral rundown, but this past weekend of college football was made for it. A number of halftime shows jumped off their usual bandhead circuits and into the mainstream.

First was Ohio State's Dance, Dance, Dance show which once again made art of stick figure art

I'll be honest, as father to a seven year old, I didn't know quite how mainstream this dance was for anyone over the age of, say, 15, but clearly a stadium full of Buckeyes knew what was up. See the full show here.

More took place in Ames this weekend than just an upset of previously undefeated West Virginia. You might not expect a herd of T-Rexes to take an unsuspecting football field in Iowa, but I'm told life finds a way.

SBNation wrote up the feat and its origin here.

You may know that North Carolina A&T State University has been at the forefront of activism and social issues since their founding, and the Blue and Gold Marching Machine is no exception. This past week's show, This Is America, highlighted various vignettes of America as we know it (or perhaps try not to know it) culminating in an arrangement of the eponymous This Is America with the Star-Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, and God Bless America.

Stay woke.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Paradox of Rivalry

The greatest trick the College Football Playoff ever pulled was forcing me to cape for C.Florida. -December 2017

As Memphis was driving in an attempt to snap UCF's tenuous lead - and with it, the nation's longest winning streak - an interesting thing was afoot. I, as a USF alumnus, didn't know what I wanted to happen.

This is the paradox of rivalry:Wanting your biggest rival to come into their game with your team undefeated so that you and you alone may break their spirit, while at once wanting them to lose every game.

This Saturday's mood was a bit more nuanced. USF - ourselves 6-0 - won on Friday night against Tulsa, a last second field goal to lead for the only two seconds of the game that mattered against a team with one win. Had Memphis, an actual formidable foe for UCF, won in similar fashion after leading for much of the game, there may have been a poetic irony in the symmetry. Still, the Knights prevailed, and I didn't hate it.

These days, UCF takes on a different mantle. Should they go undefeated again - and to be clear, I don't want this, both for Black Friday and C.Florida crowing - they will increase the intensity on the spotlight they've shone on a system that will not - indeed, cannot - reward a team from outside of college football's power structure. Those who defend it will note that the playoff rewards this year only. this is correct on its face, but does nothing to acknowledge that somehow, the equity of name recognition, conference affiliation, and budget, all years if not decades in the making, all get to play a role. Likely undefeated ACC champion Clemson will waltz in unquestioned, despite their conference tying in out of conference action against the American (with Hurricane Florence mercifully sparing UNC from the ACC's fourth loss) Sure enough, the Knights will once again be on the outside looking in, a clear reminder that there is no access to a championship of any sort for a sizable portion of FBS teams. This illumination won't change a thing, of course, and the system will keep plugging along - after all, it's not broken if it does exactly what it was intended to - consolidate power in the hands of the haves.

But hey, if C Dot can cruise through again, maybe the can claim a national title defense.
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