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Friday, April 12, 2019

Virginia Should Not Call In Vain

I don't know what Ryan Odom's vice of choice is, but I hope Tony Bennett bought him an extra large.

The Virginia Cavaliers men's basketball team entered the sports pantheon as the 2019 national champions. It was 388 days prior they made a different kind of history: Being the first 1 seed to fall to a 16 seed in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It's no stretch so say the two are related.

Bennett and his team spent the entire season fielding questions about the UMBC loss. The four letters rang out as chants in rival arenas. And though UVA ultimately won the title. event trailing in the first round against Gardner-Webb elicited a touch of fear in the Wahoo faithful.

A redemption story needs something from which to redeem, and last year's loss provided that spark. Few doubted Bennett's coaching acumen, but the fact that he had yet to make a Final Four was a glaring omission on his resume. After the loss, there were louder-than-whispers that for all of his talent, he was prone to underachieving. It's well documented that Tony Bennett is a Rocky fan, and it wouldn't suprise me if he saw shades of the pugilist's path in his own squad.

Some may think I'm hitching UMBC to UVA's coattails. Quite the opposite - I'm simply taking credit for the assist. When the inevitable 30 for 30 or documentary comes out, just be sure it starts on March 16, 2018.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

H-Town Takeover

During Week 1 of the college football season, the pro stadiums in Denver, New Orleans, Charlotte, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, and Arlington will be hosting games.

In Houston, they'll be hosting bands.

The Cracker Barrel Old Country Story National Battle of the Bands will take place on Saturday, September 1. Born the Queen City Battle of the Bands, the battle relocated to Houston, and following a year of reorganization, wil take the field tot start this fall. Today, the field was announced. The event will feature:
-FAMU Marching 100
-Miles College Purple Marching Machine
-North Carolina Central Marching Sound Machine
-Prairie View A&M Marching Storm
-Southern University Human Jukebox
-Talladega College Great Tornado
-Tennessee State Aristocrat of Bands
-Texas Southern Ocean of Soul

The announcement got the bandosphere humming for what should be a great show. For those keeping conference score, the bill includes three from the SWAC, two from the MEAC, one from the SIAC, and two that Honda would deem "independent" - Talladega from the NAIA, and Tennessee State, from the Ohio Valley, a non-HBCU conference.

Personally, I'm still a bit salty that the show relocated from my relative backyard to halfway across the country, butI suppose those in SWAC country can have a little fun too. The organizers reportedly left Charlotte for greener pastures in what Houston had to offer. Indeed, they turned the band announcement into a media event featuring no less than the mayor. And while word is that they would have had access to Bank of America Stadium - the pro field that had previously eluded them - moving into NRG Stadium in Houston was the target from the get-go. Objectively, I can also acknowledge that having this take place farther west gives it some distance from the 240 mile stretch of I-85 that will also host Honda once again in early 2020.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Faceoff

When the Alliance for American Football stepped on the scene, they avoided competing with the NFL by design, opting instead to complement, even make deals with, the sports primary league.

When the Premier Lacrosse League steps on the scene in June, they're ready for war.

Much like the sport's martial roots, the Premier Lacrosse League is preparing for a direct faceoff against the sport's primary outdoor league, Major League Lacrosse. The league's founder, Paul Rabil, is an MLL alumnus and perennial All-Star. In addition to high quality lacrosse, his vision includes a league in which players are owners with equity, full-time wages, and benefits. PLL has a media partnership with NBC, who will air games on the flagship network and NBC Sports. Will the new challenger unseat - even end - the MLL?

Unique about the PLL among North American teams sports is that the league will feature a touring model where the teams are not identified with a city or home region. The leagues six teams, the Archers, Atlas, Chaos, Chrome, Redwoods, and Whipsnake Lacrosse Clubs are exactly that - no location designation to speak of. Their 14 week season will take place in 12 cities, with a touring model not unlike DCI, NASCAR, or PGA. It's a potentially bold move, but the risk seems sound: Instead coalescing around home town pride, rooting interests, if they develop, may center on players, style of play, and team identity. Instead of attending seven home games, live fans will wait for these lacrosse mega-events to blitz their region for a weekend and get their fill there. The league uses the slogan "We the players. For the fans." to highlight their dual purpose for both the players and the fans.

So far, like the MLL and the sport of lacrosse itself, the announced cities skew heavily eastern, with New York, Boston, Baltimore, DC, Atlanta, and Chicago being confirmed as hosts. I'm selfishly hoping for a stop in the Carolinas - the Triangle (likely WakeMed Soccer Park) or Charlotte seem the most likely options - and expect at least some teams further west will make an appearance. The league, interestingly enough, is headquartered in Los Angeles.

A new era is set to begin, and it just may be a battle.

-Premiering in June
-Founded by Paul Rabil, who has played in both of the current pro leagues
-Touring method - like DCI, NASCAR, or PGA
-Intentionally setting up as a competitor to MLL. but with a different model. Will it complement? Supplant?
-Is the model healthy? Allegiance to players, teams, styles, but not geographic ties.
-Compare/contract with AAF

Monday, March 25, 2019

Mad

I might need an intervention.

A Tournamentervention.

Here in Tournament Town, I always make sure to get in on at least some of the March Madness (and to be clear, March Madness begins with conference tournaments, not just the Big Dance) action here or nearby. Usually, it's a Fat Day - the double-doubleheader of an early- or quarterfinal round in a conference tournament - at the ACC men's or women's tournament. Occasionally, I make it up the hill to the SoCon tournament in Asheville, or catch early NCAA tournament action with a local host.

This season began with the second round of the ACC women's basketball tournament, a full Thursday posted up in the Greensboro Coliseum (and in the break, the brewery across the street). Twelve hours yielded four games, eight teams, eight bands.

While Greensboro was only slated to host two basketball tournaments this year, we were gifted with bonus basketball as UNCG's men's team hosted two NIT games after missing the NCAA Tournament. I caught the second of these, which saw the home team fall to Lipscomb, ending their season. Of note: Lipscomb didn't bring their band, which I personally consider a cardinal offense for any team that earns postseason play.

Today I bought my ticket for this weekend's action: The Greensboro Regional of the NCAA women's tournament. As I type this, South Carolina and Iowa have already punched their tickets, while NC State, Kentucky, Baylor, and Cal will vie for the remaining two spots. I'll catch Saturday's doubleheader before laying live college basketball to rest until at least the fall.

When I March, I March HARD.

Next year, Greensboro hosts three tournament weekends in a row once more: ACC women's, ACC men's, and NCAA men's first and second rounds. With any luck I'll be a portion of each. What's more, it came to my attention that this year and the next two, the SEC women's tournament is in Greenville, SC, a cool city that's a reasonable drive away. Hmm....

Somebody stop me.

Better yet, don't.

Friday, March 8, 2019

This Is March

Barely a day and a half into the iconic month, I watched a team rally from down 18 at home to a game-winning three with 2.4 remaining on the clock.

And that was the undercard of the day.

I made the trip home to UMBC this past weekend for Spirit Groups Alumni Day. For the first time in four years, I was back with the Down and Dirty Dawg Band, and for two tunes, back behind the drumset. And yet this year, I came home to a different house. UMBC basketball has moved from its longtime home in the RAC to the new Event Center, which opened last season. The upgrade is significant.

I arrived and made my way to the rhythm section. One of the biggest changes was that the drumset, previously on the floor level, is now at the top of the section. It made it a bit challenging for me, as a not-tall drummer, to see the director without positioning myself just so; I imagine this is the challenge commentators often talk about with short quarterbacks and seeing over their offensive lines. The current band was great - I know they would be - and I met several more recent alumni as well.

At some point too late to make a bigger deal about, I realized that this with the band having begun in 1998-99, this was the 20th anniversary season. I joined in its second year. I mentioned this to the current drummer who noted, "The pep band's 20? I'm 20."

I got to experience some of the band's new traditions, chants and charts, and bring back a few from my way. Ray Lewis popularized the "What time is it?!" chant during his career in a stadium not far from our own, and we adopted it as the very dawgs in the house he references. Thankfully, it's well known enough that everyone caught on as I reprised it for Alumni Day.

The game, as I mentioned, was an exciting one. Despite recent success, I spent enough losing seasons behind the drumset that I've never considered a win a given, nor a prerequisite to enjoying a game. At the point that we were down 18 in the 2nd, I was fully expecting to add another L to my UMBC hoops watching experience. That was not to be; the team rallied, ultimately winning by three on a near-buzzer beating 3. Our former post-win tune was a mashup of 3 Dog Night's Celebrate and Kool and the Gang's Celebration. These days, unsurprisingly, it's T-Pain's All I Do Is Win.

There was only one returning alumnus who I truly overlapped with in my time in the band, and several others I had met in previous trips home. Still, the bond of shared experience remained between me and those who I was meeting for the first time, or had never met. I had the slightest hesitation in headed to the after-afterparty at PubDog with alumni as much as a decade and a half my junior, but as I knew, the beat goes on, and I had a great time with some fellow alumni. The rest of the trip was a nice roll through southeastern Baltimore County as well - both Heavy Seas brewery and Guinness' US branch are in Halethorpe, mere minutes from campus and where I was staying.

Monday, February 11, 2019

March & Bands

I'm not going to hit y'all with my annual "hey, just starting to pay attention to hoops" post (whoops), but as I look forward to the final month of hoops and tournament season, there are a few opportunities that will be or may be in front of me. Here's what I've got:

-The remainder of the (22 wins and counting!) UNCG Spartans season
-Pep Band Alumni Day, recently announced for March 2, at UMBC. Don't know for sure yet if I'll make the trip, but the draw both of home and of  the new Events Center make it enticing
-ACC women's basketball tournament, here in Greensboro
-ACC men's basketball tournament, down in Charlotte
-NCAA men's basketball tournament, especially if one of my schools heads somewhere within reach (which this year is basically Columbia)
-NCAA women's tournament - Greensboro Regional

Alliance

The Alliance of American Football began its play, by design, the week after the Super Bowl.

This past weekend, the fledgling league kicked off its inaugural season with four games between the league's eight teams, drawing at least curious eyeballs that may or may not stick out the season. I had a pair among them, having been intrigued by the concept since the Alliance announced its inception nearly a year ago. Early returns seem to indicate interest, and time will tell if it remains.

Unlike other professional football leagues, the Alliance doesn't compete with the NFL by design, even going as far as to call itself a developmental league. While no formal minor league relationship exists, the Alliance runs a schedule counter to the NFL by design, potentially capitalizing on those who wish to shorten the nearly seven month layoff between the Super Bowl and the start of college football. Many of the league's games will even air on the NFL Network. As a new league, the AAF is agile enough for a few nuances with the rules, and the NFL would be wise to keep an eye on their use for potential incorporation into their product. The games trend a good deal shorter, with a shorter play clock, changes in the kicking game, and a reduction in TV timeouts (opting for partial screen commercials instead). As the Alliance continues to differentiate their product I can think of one other key area:

(c'mon, have we met?)

Marching bands.

Opening weekend saw Bethune Cookman's Marching Wildcats perform at the Orlando Apollos' home opener against the Atlanta Legends. The trip clocked in right around an hour for BCU, though it's notable that there's another band that calls the stadium home. The season incongruence may make regular college band performances difficult - college marching bands are likely packing away the field drums and sousaphones in favor of concert band equipment at this time of year. Still, each AAF stadium is already in use by a college band, so sustaining a band of their own could scratch an itch for marching members and bandheads in the same manner the league is set to do for football fans. The Alliance's schedule runs February through April - essentially, Spring semester at many schools - giving students, alumni, and locals of the likes of the Marching Knights, Marching Blazers, Spirit of San Antonio, and other AAF cities the opportunity to keep their skills sharp and march on. While less-than-full stadiums in the opening week would suggest that the league's primary audience is those who tune in on TV, marching bands could add to the in-stadium atmosphere. The league, by design, plays on both Saturdays and Sundays, a nod to both the college and NFL products. Why not take this page out of the college playbook?

Monday, January 21, 2019

Coda

Me with 5th Quarter co-founder Christy Walker
Queen City Battle of the Bands, 2017
On January 19, 1999, The5thQuarter.com began, giving a voice, forum, and community to HBCU marching bands, their members, and supporters. On January 19, 2019 - 20 years later - The 5th shuttered its doors, leaving but a headstone where the liveliest virtual bandroom on the internet once stood. The 5th Quarter began, and endured, as an online bulletin board/forum where the primary topic of conversation, unifying purpose, and raison d'etre was HBCU bands.

I have no business writing its eulogy. But then, it's never stopped me before. As a space for HBCU bandheads, I was a lurker, at best an occasional commenter. I don't recall when I first found the 5th, but I know for sure I was there when Drumline came out. If memory serves, I was familiar already, and knew it was a safe haven from other corners of the internet where corps style kids questioned the film's bona fides. It wasn't until later that I learned of the immense impact that the site, and its members, had on the film's creation and success.

I called the 5th a virtual bandroom, and perhaps a big part of its gift was being virtually every bandroom. Ask anyone who's ever marched, and they will tell you the bandroom is home, a place born of a common purpose and a common love. In what may seem a paradox on its face, the 5th became that place for members from otherwise rival bandrooms, bound by the HBCU experience, shouting "we all we got," even while not messing with one another otherwise.

Twenty years. There are students in HBCU bands now for whom today is the first day that they and the 5th Quarter have not coexisted.

Those of us who profess to cover marching and athletic music online must recognize the 5th as our pioneer, griot, and elder statesman. The home they created made that which many of us continue possible. The landscape is now rich for HBCU bands specifically, and all marching bands more generally, but the 5th set the wheels in motion.

For that matter, the 5th Quarter is also a pioneer in Black spaces on the internet. The landscape has changed immensely in the past 20 years, and the 5th was on the leading edge. BBS and AOL chat rooms were the currency then, the predecessor to what we now consider social media. Some with some internet longevity may recall BlackPlanet as the premier Black social network of its day; the 5th Quarter predates even its launch by nearly nine months. The 5th was predominantly, authentically, and unapologetically Black on the internet since the dawn of the Cash Money Records takeover.

From a personal standpoint: I am proud to consider co-founder Christy Walker a friend of mine. Joe Beard of the Marching Podcast made the introduction over on Twitter, and if I'm perfectly honest, I had to try not to get too geeked, already being familiar with her work. Christy and I met in person for the first time at Queen City Battle of the Bands 2017, and I saw in real life the community that she has played a key role in creating. And while I was late to the live game, this community had been cultivated over those two decades through live events, NLBH, SYOSO, Honda Sky (Phi) Box, and the heathen section wherever such a gathering occurs, as well as media offerings that lived beyond the site itself, including the 5th Quarter podcast and Christy's own presence on whichever social media she inhabits.

While the 5th itself has reached its coda, it has left behind in others the will and conviction to carry on. On their live denouement, Christy and her co-founder Mike Lee lamented that future generations of marchers would not know the 5th first hand. While that may be technically true, the 5th Quarter's fingerprints are on every bit of HBCU media present and yet to come. Simply put, they were the blueprint, the drill book we all followed and will continue to follow from here on out, and to that we owe the utmost gratitude. From the bottom of all of out hearts, thank you. ||

Monday, January 14, 2019

You Don't Know the Half of It

Can you be one of the world's most popular sports leagues and socially untouchable?

Ask the NFL.

Despite being one of the most lucrative sports leagues in the world, the National Football League has had a helluva time rounding out the Super Bowl halftime performance. Despite being among the most watched events annually, many artists - particularly black artists - aren't going anywhere near the Super Bowl, due largely to the NFL's stance (stances?) on police brutality protests during the National Anthem, and continued blackballing of Colin Kaepernick. To date, Maroon 5 has signed on as the headliner, with support including Travis Scott and most recently Big Boi of Outkast, the latter an addition of authentic ATL. And while Big Boi takes his Ls at both his decision to perform and his stance as at least the NFL's 8th choice, I wonder: Are there others who will curve the League?

While marching bands are no longer the main event at Super Bowl halftime shows, there has more often than not been representation from a local college of high school band or bands at most of the most recent games. In Atlanta, if you're looking locally, that almost certainly means HBCUs and predominantly black high schools. Much as DC area high schools and Howard chose not to perform at Trump's inauguration, there's a very real possibility that Atlanta - and other bands for whom the A is a well worn path - will sit this one out as well. Then again, much as Talladega saw the Inaugural stage as too large to pass up, someone may slide in if the Shield comes calling.

There be Dragons

You may have expected me to have big opinions on the Imagine Dragons halftime show during the CFB Playoff National Championship. Certainly I'd have something to say about the sort of Super Bowl style, recording artist performance that the game has put in place for the second year now, after having included Kendrick Lamar last year.

But I don't. Why? Because I don't acknowledge its existence.

Sure, I knew Imagine Dragons and Lil Wayne were playing halftime (from an off-site location nearly 50 miles from the game venue) that was televised within the main TV broadcast for the game. I just never considered, for the slightest second, that I'd do anything different than what I did: watch the Million Dollar Band and the Band that Shakes the Southland on whichever ESPN3 channels were carrying it. This year, I opted for the "All 22" feed, which featured a high angle cam.

I've got nothing against Imagine Dragons. I rather enjoy their predecessor, Kendrick Lamar. But I'd never choose a recording artist over marching bands for a college halftime both as a matter of preference and loyalty.

It's not unreasonable to believe that these off-site performances may be the proverbial camel's nose under the tent that leads us to Super Bowl style halftimes in the CFB Playoff's future. While this particular championship game format is new, it's proven to be big business for the sport and its broadcast partner, ESPN. While loyalty to the product - college football and all that it entails - itself should preserve the relationship with marching bands, the desire to chase the next thrill puts mimicking its professional counterpart in play. Especially as the NFL becomes an increasingly polarizing product, the market for major artists who might levy moral objections to the pro game increases for the collegiate game. So while I hope we never find ourselves there, the possibility looms.

That said, I did listen to an interview with Imagine Dragons this week, from ESPN Music, that was included in the Campus Conversation podcast feed, and I will acknowledge that they had one piece going for them that their college counterparts did not: A sense of scale.

Imagine Dragons acknowledged that they knew playing halftime at a football game - THIS football game - changed the expectation. They wouldn't be starting cold, but rather riding a wave of momentum created by the first half of football. They took the time they were given seriously, and likely responded in kind. For their college marching band counterparts, while I'm sure the energy was there - especially fueled by allegiance to one of the two teams that created that momentum - this was, in a lot of ways, just another day at the office. Simply put, the bands need to level up.

Both bands - and indeed, the bands in nearly all postseason/championship situations - played shows they had already played before their home crowds during the season. It's almost entirely the nature of the beast. The college football regular season goes final at around the same time as most schools' fall semesters, meaning that the time any band would be installing and cleaning a new show is the break between semesters. The bands scatter to the winds after classes begin, typically coming back together just to travel to the postseason games, and put in minimal rehearsal onsite before taking the field come gametime. A new show is impractical, especially given that timeframe. On the other hand: The bands have likely the largest and undoubtedly the most high profile stage before them when playing at the national championship. While they give it their all every week, a championship situation ought to have a certain je ne sais quoi.

I can't say I know what that is. Lasers? A light show? Costume changes? Probably not. But if you've got a reasonable shot at the postseason, start planning now, and kick it up a notch.
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