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Friday, June 17, 2022

BoomBox Birmingham


West Virginia-Pitt

Texas-Texas A&M

And now, Jackson State-Southern.

Realignment in college sports has fundamentally altered traditional rivalries. In some cases, a conference split has stopped teams from playing, relegated their matchups to at times rare out-of-conference games, or even made in conference, but cross-divisional games that were one annual a novelty. The most recent expansion of the SWAC and subsequent adjustment of the divisions put annual rivals Jackson State and Southern on opposite sides of the split, meaning they would miss one another on the conference schedule two out of ever six years. Thankfully, the two schools, with the help and support of the conference office, were able to find a solution with a little magic.

Magic City, that is. 

Back in January, HBCU Gameday sat down with SWAC commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland to break down a move of the annual rivalry game, the BoomBox Classic, to Birmingham in 2023 and 2024. To be clear, the games aren't actually moving; the two schools would not have played in those years if they had not scheduled what is functionally a nonconference matchup. Still, why not a home-and-home in Baton Rouge and Jackson instead of a neutral site game that's at least 230 miles from the closest campus?


The SWAC's deal with Legion Field in Birmingham came from the offer of three rent-free events for the conference. The league, in turn, offered up the opportunity to members, and Jackson State and Southern, who were having difficulties scheduling for 2023 and 2024, saw this offer as a path forward (the third game will also feature Jackson State, who will face UAPB in Birmingham). These "SWAC Classic" games in Birmingham are part of a new foray into the steel city of the south, which hosted the SWAC football championship from 1999 to 2012. Southern and Jackson State last met in Birmingham in the 1999 championship. The games in Birmingham also provide significant winfall for both schools: Often, SWAC and other FCS schools are beholden to "money games" - lucrative but usually athletically demoralizing games against FBS and often Power 5 competition - to help fund the program. With Birmingham comping the operating costs for these games, each school stands to walk away with a substantial payout from each game.

Realignment has also moved Birmingham closer to the heart of the SWAC, as the addition of FAMU and BCU stretched the conference eastward. While Legion Field once again has a permanent tenant in the USFL's Birmingham Stallions, the Old Gray Lady is no stranger to college football either. In addition to annually hosting the SWAC's Magic City Classic between Alabama State and Alabama A&M, Legion Field was once home to the Iron Bowl, as well as a home-away-from-home for both Alabama and Auburn. The game will bring Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders into the veritable backyard of Alabama's Nick Saban; t he two traded words recently on the topic of NIL.

But Birmingham has more than college football in its past. The city is also an anchor of the civil rights era, central to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birmingham Campaign, and saw Dr. King imprisoned; firehoses and dogs turned on children at the behest of police commissioner Bull Connor; and the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church (among others) that killed four young girls. Birmingham is now hom to the National Park Service's Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. The population of the city itself is now nearly three-quarters Black.

The BoomBox Classic draws its name from the two schools' marching bands: Jackson State's Sonic Boom of the South, and Southern's Human Jukebox. If the SWAC classic games grow into a larger celebration of HBCU culture, it's not hard to see a battle of the bands popping off. Alabama is home to more HBCUs than any other state, and with the import of Jackson and Southern, the number will rise during that weekend. In addition to Bama State and AAM|U, Miles, Tuskegee, and Talladega all share the state, and Atlanta is only two hours away. While some of the Tiger and Jaguar faithful are not happy with the game leaving their respective campuses for these two years, there's a good chance the outcome could be something greater for the culture.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Battle of the Battles

There is an HBCU battle of the bands, sponsored by the American arm of a Japanese automaker, taking place in an NFL stadium with a retractable roof, in a major southern city with a significant HBCU presence.

I must be talking about the National Battle of the Bands, sponsored by Toyota.

Wait what?

Following a (lamentable, in my North Carolinian opinion) move from Charlotte the Queen City Battle of the Bands rebranded as the National Battle of the Bands and found a home in Houston's NRG Stadium. Its positioning at the beginning of the football/marching season makes it a logical foil to Honda's late January tradition. But with a few major sponsorships and momentum on its side - with all due respect to Atlantan and former Honda Battle of the Bands performer Ludacris - they're coming for the #1 spot.

Since its inception in 2003 - in the wake of Drumline's fictional Big Southern Classic - the Honda Battle of the Bands has been the premier HBCU battle. Make no mistake, it still is, and hasn't yet been dethroned, but The Toyota (no one calls it that - yet) just so happened to emerge amid a series of challenges in Atlanta that have led to just one Honda since 2018; in 2019, the Super Bowl being held in a then-new Mercedes-Benz stadium caused a "scheduling conflict" with the Honda; it returned for 2020, but we lost the 2021 and 2022  contests to the pandemic. The National Battle of the Bands, in contrast, happened to thread the needle between summer 2021's declaration of "outside" and the omicron variant such that it's the most recent battle on our minds, and in doing so, garnered new sponsors in Toyota - oh, and Pepsi, in case a foil was needed to Atlanta's Coca-Cola. 

If the energy is indeed shifting from the A to the East Texas bayou, it isn't happening in a vacuum. Back in 2016, Black Enterprise declared Houston "America's next great Black business mecca," a title most would currently attribute to Atlanta. Much as Atlanta has long been associated with its HBCU presence, so has Houston - indeed, with Texas Southern and Prairie View sharing the metro area, greater Houston is the only metro to boast two HBCUs with a population of 8,000 or greater. 

But Houston's rise  feels like something else we've seen, coincidentally also involving Atlanta: The move of the College Football Hall of Fame from South Bend to Atlanta was an allegory for the sport's power shifting to the SEC. In HBCU sports and marching, the balance of power - conference power, certainly - is shifting to the more western of the Division I conferences. The SWAC has grown with the addition of FAMU and Bethune-Cookman, while the MEAC lost not only those schools, but Hampton, A&T, and soon possibly Howard to the Big South and the Colonial. While all the schools' locations remain unchanged, the company they keep is taking an occidental tilt. And after years of the SWAC's western schools taking the hike to the Honda, they now have a major battle on their home turf.

All indications are that the Honda will return in 2023, bookending a marching season kicked off on Houston. May the battles battle.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

#bracketbands is Back!


In March 2020, the ACC women's basketball tournament was one of the last events to reach completion before the global pandemic took hold here in the US.

In March 2021, the tournament returned. Unlike so many other sporting events through the calendar, that particular tournament was rare in that it missed no time in either 2020 or 2021; however, the 2021 tournament was drastically altered. Attendance was limited, and no pep bands made the trip to support their teams.

In March 2022, I'm excited to once again head to the Greensboro Coliseum for one of the best basketball tournaments in the country and to once again get my fill of #bracketbands.

Feel free to follow along on Instagram @eightyminutes, on Twitter @80mins, and #bracketbands in both places.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Hail to the... ?


The Washington Football Team is now the Washington Commanders, the franchise announced yesterday, confirming a previous leak. The planned February 2 unveiling came with a robust brand kit, including a new crest, logo, and uniforms, but a few elements remain to be revealed.

Y'all know where I'm going with this.

The Washington Commanders Marching Band, the oldest marching band in professional football, last took the field in totality during the 2019 season, the last season the team competed under its previous name. 2020, was, well, 2020, and in addition to pandemic restrictions altering crowd attendance, the band pared down to just the drumline for that season. The drumline remained during the 2021 season amid the rebrand, but the full band is slated to return to the field for the 2022 season.

But what will they look like? The band updated their uniforms more than a decade ago, forgoing headdresses and other faux-Native American imagery for uniforms more readily recognized as "traditional" marching band uniforms. What will the next update bring? Will the new name evoke military imagery? Would a program so steeped in tradition go the route of some of the more modern designs found in DCI and high school marching bands?

We also haven't yet learned what is to become of the fight song, also among the oldest in the NFL. Hail to the Redskins was both fight song and rallying cry, and no doubt the Washington football faithful auditioned team names within the cadence as the front office mulled potential name changes. Assuming the tune doesn't change, most notice immediately that the new name simply doesn't fit. The Commanders could insert a two syllable rallying cry: Something like "Let's go, Commanders" would fit, however generic it may be. The current fight song lyrics are such that relatively little change is required. With an update to the opening line and "Braves on the warpath," the rest of the song can be used unaltered.

If they're willing to take their cues from a fan of a division rival, I've arrived at my suggestion: Drive On, Commanders. "Drive," as both a noun and verb, is already featured in any number of football fight songs, but that particular construction would be unique to the new team identity. It also acronyms to DC, at least as well as the District [of] Columbia does.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

#bowlbands - College Football Playoff Championship

 Alabama and Georgia will meet for the championship in a decidedly un-SEC locale. Three of their last four meetings - two SEC title games and the championship game following the 2017 season - took place in Atlanta, but this time a pair of schools separated by less than 300 miles in the southeast will make the trip 500 some odd miles north to Indianapolis, a city far more well known for Big Ten tilts.

The city is also known as the host of the DCI World Championships, but this Monday night they'll be hosting a pair of Sudler Trophy winners - much as they did a month ago as Michigan and Iowa met in the Big Ten championship. On that same day, the Million Dollar Band and the Redcoat Marching Band last saw one another.



Thursday, January 6, 2022

Casual Fan

Who is the casual fan?

They get brought up often, usually in the context of TV ratings, and especially in the postseason. As Georgia and Alabama prepare to play for the College Football Playoff championship, questions abound about how much the "casual fan" cares to see this matchup. The question is not without merit. The two played just a month ago in the SEC championship game. Alabama in particular is the "boring" participant, having appeared in five of the last six championships and won three of them. Both teams represent a conference, the SEC, that holds four championships in the playoff era. The pair are separated by less than 300 miles, and occupy two adjacent states in the southeast. It's easy to see how the rest of the country - or at least the ones who aren't chanting S-E-C - would be uninterested.

And yet, the last time these two met in the title game, following the 2017 season, was the second most watched championship game of the playoff era. While Bama wasn't yet as deep into its just-this-side-of-boring dominance by that point, most of the other factors remain the same. So why did it draw so many eyeballs? Perhaps "casual fan" is a misnomer.

"Casual fan" may accurately describe those who don't cling to every pre-season magazine, watch every also-ran bowl game, consume every piece of media about the sport, but it may not get at what they are fanatical about. To a casual college football fan who loves sports because they enjoy seeing amazing athletic performance, for example, this game may be of great interest. To those who can't miss a championship game for simple FOMO, they're tuning in. The game is also of interest to those who are primarily NFL fans - after all, it will be full of players with Sunday in their future. Even with an Alabama program that writes the championship game in their planner in pen, the potential that Georgia might be one of the few to get the best of the Tide may be of interest to the casual fan. So whether they're tuning in to hate-watch Bama, get a glimpse of the future, or just get the last glimpse of college football until the fall, there's a good chance this one still draws decently.

Friday, December 31, 2021

#bowlbands - CFP Semifinal: Capital One Orange Bowl

 The Michigan Wolverines and Georgia Bulldogs will meet in the second semifinal in the Capital One Orange Bowl. Michigan made the playoff after beating archrival Ohio State in the final game of the regular season and Iowa in the Big Ten championship game. After spending the entire season at #1, Georgia dropped the SEC championship game to Alabama, but only fell to #3. The Orange Bowl matches a pair of Sudler Trophy winners: Michigan was the first to receive the honor, while Georgia was the first in the SEC. However, as is Orange Bowl tradition, both bands will miss halftime, as their recording artist halftime show will get fancy like Applebee's on a date night with Walker Hayes.

The two programs both have ties to bandsmen I admire. My high school's blue and gold may as well have been maize and blue under the direction of Paul Parets, who spent 36 years as director of the Alexis I. duPont High School Tiger Marching Band. Among the band's accolades with Mr. Parets at the helm were five trips to the Rose Parade, multiple trips to the Lord Mayor's New Year's Day parade in London, St. Patrick's Day parade in Ireland, and of particular note here, performances in the Orange Bowl Parade in Miami.

This past January, I lost a friend and colleague who passed unexpectedly in Dr. Dennis AsKew, who served as director of the School of Music at UNCG. I met Dennis when he was serving as the pep band director, and we connected over our love of athletic bands, including drum corps. He marched sousaphone for Georgia and loved his Dawgs. Dennis also attended Michigan.

Should Alabama win the other semifinal, the winner of this game will be headed for another dual Sudler matchup.



#bowlbands - CFP Semifinal: Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

The first semifinal matchup this New Year's Eve has been billed by most as David vs. Goliath. Cincinnati, the first Group of Five team to be included in the College Football Playoff, and they've got a tall task ahead of them in reigning champion and perennial power Alabama.

At the half and in the stands, the Bearcat Band will be facing the Million Dollar Band, and to say they've been there before would be an understatement. Bama's band may as well get the playoff logo (Clemson's band informed me that they're stickers) permanently affixed to their uniforms. Still, Cincinnati's band knows they're damn good, and will take the field as fearlessly as their team. However, the Bearcat Band will be taking the field without Director Christopher Nichter and Associate Director Nicholas Angelis, both of whom have been placed on leave for unknown reasons.

This year's Cotton Bowl is also a family affair: The Moorhouse family has a pair of brothers marching in both bands. Senior Christopher plays alto sax in the Million Dollar Band, while his younger brother Noah stayed local and marches the same instrument for the Bearcat Band.



For All the Mayo


On a gray, foggy, intermittently rainy day in Charlotte, I reunited with live football.

I was at the same bowl - then the Belk Bowl - in late 2019. Then 2020 was, of course, 2020, and despite a few games of interest nearby this past season, I kept my distance. But that streak broke today a short drive down I-85. While I had always intended to attend, I waited until the last minute to buy my ticket. Having planned on going to the Military Bowl parade while in Maryland earlier in the week, I had already been affected by one bowl cancellation, and hoped that the game in Charlotte wouldn't meet a similar fate.

The Duke's Mayo Bowl pitted North Carolina against South Carolina, at the crossroads of the Carolinas, and the bowl couldn't have asked for a better comeback after the 2020 season. With Columbia and Chapel Hill within easy driving distance - to say nothing of the untold thousands of Gamecocks and Tar Heels living in the Charlotte Metro already - the game was well attended and lively. The bowl's social media presence and the promise of a mayo bath (and a donation to charity) for the winning coach, added intrigue for the home viewers, even the irritable bowl syndrome folks who think there are too many meaningless bowls.

I saw the Mighty Sound of the Southeast most recently at the 2018 Belk Bowl; I haven't seen the Marching Tar Heels live since 2007 when USF played in Chapel Hill, though I've seen their pep bands plenty here in Greensboro. I was seated in the upper deck, TV side, on about the side 1 40 yard line, meaning South Carolina has about a 20 yard advantage on my ears, but even without that, it was clear they had superior sonic output. I also happened to be on the South Carolina side, so I only got UNC's band from the backfield.

While the well attended game was undoubtedly good for the bowl's coffers, it made it a bit tougher to navigate as a band fan. My experience with both bands was from my cheap seat perch, while in year's past I've been able to move down closer to both bands. Still, it was great to be out there live once more. For more, check out #bowlbands on Instagram and Twitter. Here's to 2022!

Friday, December 10, 2021

#bowlbands Rapid* Reactions

 (And by rapid, I mean that I'm going through them fairly quickly, not that they're coming immediately after announcements, because, well, yeah.)

First, I hope, as I always to, that the full bands get to attend each bowl game. My previous refrain was if an athletic department couldn't afford to send its full operation - band cheer, dance, etc. - to the postseason, they weren't equipped to compete at that level; however, I understand that programs were hit hard this past year with the pandemic, so I'm not nearly as critical now. 

One of the first things I typically go looking for any bowl season is dual Sudler matchups, and it's a slim slate - just three to start, with a fourth in the championship game if Alabama wins its semifinal game against Cincinnati. Beyond the other semifinal game, Michigan vs. Georgia in the Orange Bowl (where they won't do halftime), LSU meets Kansas State in the TaxAct Texas Bowl and Penn State and Arkansas will meet in the Outback Bowl.

The field at Raymond James Stadium will also see an in-state pairing as Florida plays UCF in the Gasparilla Bowl, just over a week prior. It will be Florida's second trip there this year, as the Gators played USF early in the season; UCF makes their way there every other year in the annual War on I-4. Two schools that call themselves Carolina also have a short trip ahead of them, as North Carolina and South Carolina will meet in Charlotte in the Duke's Mayo Bowl. I intend to be at the game, which will be the third name under which I will attend the bowl in Charlotte. I'll also make my way out to at least the parade, if not the game, for the Military Bowl while in Maryland for the holidays, meaning I'll catch North, South, and East Carolina.

The New Year's Six matchups are a mixed bag of familiar and unfamiliar. Both the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl will feature traditional tie-ins: Big Ten/Pac-12 and Big 12/SEC, respectively. #5 Notre Dame returns to the Fiesta Bowl for the third time since 2000, while Oklahoma State, who sat literal inches from making the playoff conversation much more interesting, returns for the first time since finishing #3 in the then-BCS standings following the 2011 season. But most seemingly out of place is the Peach Bowl. This year's game, which will feature a Pat Narduzzi-helmed, ACC Champion Pitt against Narduzzi's previous employer Michigan State, will host no southern schools for only the second time in the bowl's history, the other being Army vs. Illinois in 1985.

But fear not, Atlanta - the South is still coming through. The Sonic Boom of the South, that is, who will meet the Marching 101 in the Celebration Bowl, back after a pandemic hiatus. Both Jackson State and South Carolina State are making their first appearances as the SWAC and MEAC representatives, respectively. Jackson State in particular has been getting outsized attention for an FCS program generally and an HBCU specifically from sports media due to having Coach Prime - NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders - at the helm as head coach.

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