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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

One Shining Moment

It never came to pass, but for one shining moment, we knew that pep bands were essential personnel.

News of the college hoops world's reaction to the Coronavirus pandemic changed very quickly. Mid day this past Wednesday, I expected to spend Thursday night in the Greensboro Coliseum for the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. By that evening we would learn that no fans would be in attendance, before the tournament was cancelled completely about a half hour before the tip of the first quarterfinal game.

But an awesome thing happened: As those who were allowed to attend filed into the Coliseum for the first quarterfinal matchup, among them were FSU and Clemson's pep bands. It's what I believe should have happened - social distancing is important, of course, but the pep bands occupy a part of the arena distinct from those occupied by the team or the media who we knew would be present. Keeping the pep bands allows for a modicum of normalcy in absurd times, ensuring that both teams have some of their most fervent supporters and their soundtrack, present. It would seem that the Atlantic Coast Conference agreed, as both bands were to be among those in attendance before the tournament was abruptly curtailed. While the game was never played, it's great that if it had been, the bands would have been on hand.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Big South, Big News

The realignment carousel is up for another spin - this time at the FCS level.

North Carolina A&T announced on Friday that they'll be leaving the MEAC, of whom they are a charter member, for the Big South, effective July 1, 2021. The Aggies, have earned at least a share of five of the last six MEAC football titles, a run that included four Celebration Bowl victories. The men's and women's basketball teams have won the conference as recently as 2013 and 2016, respectively. A&T is the second MEAC school to depart for the Big South since 2018, when Hampton University made the move.

A&T's departure from the MEAC wasn't entirely surprising - most recent rumors had spoken of a potential move to FBS - but upon the rumored announcement yesterday, a move to the Big South seemed lateral at best. In NCAA men's basketball tournament parlance, both teams are one bid leagues that have sent their champions to Dayton for the First Four. In football, the Big South sends its champion to the NCAA Division I playoffs, while the MEAC champion plays in the Celebration Bowl for the HBCU championship. It's possible money is a primary motivator - and to be clear, in matters of realignment, it almost always is - but barring that, my immediate thoughts went to what they'd be gaining versus what they'd be giving up.

For the next 18 months, A&T resides in the MEAC, one of two Division I conferences comprised entirely of HBCUs. The MEAC is the junior of the two, having emerged in 1970 primarily from former CIAA members, and became a Division I conference in 1978. The member schools' shared identity has led to conference solidarity even amidst rivalry - Against the SWAC, the other such conference, at least. Dating back to the CIAA, A&T has shared a conference with Howard for nearly a century, and has had stretches with other conference rivals, whether continuous or interrupted, since the 1920s. The move feels like the sort of cultural disconnect I felt when the Terps went to the Big Ten, in which another conference charter member set off on a new path. For the record, that pairing still makes little sense to me, and at least a present, I feel the same way about A&T's move.

A&T cited travel cost savings among its reasons for the move. The MEAC is the most extensive of any FCS conference east of the Rockies, stretching nearly 1,000 miles from FAMU in the south to Delaware State in the north. In contrast, no team will play more than a state away in the Big South, where all members are in the Carolinas and Virginia - save for football-only outliers Monmouth in New Jersey, Kennesaw State in Georgia, and North Alabama. The Aggies will once again share a conference with Hampton, and may find a new conference rival in fellow Triad school High Point or UNC systemmmate UNC Asheville. Still, it's hard at this juncture to see the Aggie faithful getting as excited about games against Gardner-Webb and Campbell as they did about games against Norfolk State and FAMU - especially at halftime. The Aggies will have a chance to return to the NCAA Division I football playoffs, which they last visited in 2016 as an at-large as MEAC runner up. In this, the Big South has been a two bid league each of the past two years, finding its success in the form of football-only members Monmouth and Kennesaw State. The Aggies may also see the Big South as a more effective launchpad to FBS, as it was for Coastal Carolina a few years ago.

The Big South made out great on the deal. In A&T, they get a competitive program with a loyal fanbase that fits neatly into the conference footprint. The conference will drop to just seven football playing members in 2020 as Presbyterian's programs opts for the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League. Returning to eight will give league members seven conference games, and four out of conference slots to fill; A&T has expressly stated a desire to keep playing chief rival NC Central, and they will likely maintain relationships with other former conferencemates and HBCUs.

What will become of the MEAC? The conference will fall to eight football members following A&T's departure, down from 11 just two years ago with the losses of Hampton, A&T, and Savannah State, who returned to the Division II SIAC. What's more, with the Aggie, it's not just that they lost, but the program that they lost - a perennial conference champion and Celebration Bowl champion, and the nation's largest HBCU. The league office has stated a willingness to expand, but options in such are limited either to a rising Division II program, or adding a non-HBCU to the league, as the CIAA and SIAC have done. The MEAC has stated that "member institutions are united to remain a viable and sustainable Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) conference," but realignment has shown that that's always true - clear up until it isn't. The MEAC has weathered departures before, but if member institutions get antsy, the conference could go the way of the Big East. In addition to the Big South, the MEAC shares parts of its footprint with the SoCon and CAA, both also FCS conferences that offer football. Programs could also consider returning to Division II, as Savannah State did recently and Winston Salem State did a decade ago. And should FAMU get jumpy, they could entertain membership in the SWAC - they share a state border and reasonable travel with Alabama State and Alabama A&M, and even the longest stretch to Prairie View is shorter than its current conference trips to Norfolk, DC, and Dover. There's no reason for the MEAC to panic yet but hopefully they're keeping a close eye at conference headquarters because once realignment comes knocking, there's no telling where it will end.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Ten Since 2010 - Live Events

I've been fortunate enough to attend plenty of live events this past decade. Here, in no particular order, are ten notable events I caught live.

16 over 1 - These are in no particular order, but this is my number 1. Being there live for the first and to date only 16 over 1 upset in the men's Division I basketball tournament would have been exciting enough. That 16 just so happening to be my alma mater made it indescribable.
Preakness - I took in the second jewel of the Triple Crown for my bachelor party, born simply of a fortuitous trip to Baltimore during the right weekend.
Honeymoon - Our honeymoon - an Alaskan cruise and cross-country drive - was deceptively sports filled, with trips to Wrigley Field, Camp Randall Stadium, and the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
BasketBinge - On a glorious weekend in 2013, I caught three games in about 24 hours in two states and DC, en route to UMBC's Spirit Groups Alumni Day.
CFB Opening Weekend 2013 - I caught the first game of the season - North Carolina at South Carolina - as well as the inaugural game for Charlotte 49ers football.
2014 DCI Championships - Made the trip up to Indianapolis and caught not only Friday's semifinals in Lucas Oil Stadium, but toured DCI HQ, checked out the Rhythm Discovery Center, and saw Drumline Battle live in action.
Louisville at Clemson - Headed down to the Upstate for a live Clemson game towards the beginning of their rise.
Queen City Battle of the Bands - The final QCBOB in Charlotte before the took their ball to play elsewhere.
College Football Playoff Championship Weekend - While I came and went before the bands got to town, this weekend in the A was highlighted by plenty of CFB Playoff fan activities and a Solid Verbal live show.
Fresh Fest - The trip to the nation's first Black craft beer festival also included a tour of PNC Park and a preseason Steelers game.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Ten since 2010: Posts

I don't feel as though I need to excuse the fact that my Decade In Review post is coming the better part of a month into the new year, but if I did, I'd note that in a space that follows college football heavily, considers the Honda one of the high holy days, and will ultimately keep this season pushing through the Super Bowl, this is just about on time.

Having started in 2008, the 2010s are the first full calendar decade of 80 Minutes of Regulation. I looked back over the decade to pull a few posts of note over the past ten years.

Champion's Honor - when the Honda Battle of the Bands honored the life of Robert Champion.
Winds of Change - as Drum Corps International considered a proposal to add woodwinds
I'm Gonna Miss H.E.R.  - as realignment took West Virginia from the Big East
One Band, One Sound, One Decade Later - reflections on Drumline ten years after its release
Big East (1979-2013) - a eulogy for the Big East Conference
That Which we Call a Corps By Any Other Name... - drum corps *whispers* are marching bands
Earning Their Stripes - Triad Stage's Common Enemy brings the tale of college athletics to the stage
To Be Young, Gifted, and Black - Cam Newton's swag is that of an HBCU marching band
Columbus Day - on the Columbusing of Neck
Coda - The 5th Quarter comes to a close

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...


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
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.



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:


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
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.
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