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Friday, March 25, 2011

March Bandness

While I mentioned my consumption of March Madness this year has been limited, I was all over the conference tournaments. In the few days BA (Before Anastasia), I headed down to the Greensboro Coliseum for some ACC tournament action. As I did last year, I headed with friends to the lot with the hope of scoring tickets and got my hands on some for the Thursday evening for a decent price, catching session 2, which featured the Terps vs. NC State and Georgia Tech vs. Virginia Tech.

As a pep band alumnus and fan, there is really no more electrifying time than conference tournament time. With the NCAA Tournament looming, many bands hopes to help usher their team through the final play-in opportunity towards their "one shining moment". At the ACC tournament, most teams know of their tournament fate, but in conferences like the Northeast Conference, which I used to attend as a pep band member, or the Southern Conference, where UNCG plays, a conference tournament championship is the only way to make it to the Big Dance. Excitement is at an all time high.

But for pep band folks, there is another benefit. Unlike in football, it is extremely rare for pep bands to travel to away games, meaning that in most cases, a pep band is the only band in their home arena. Once the tournament rolls around, there is another band in the building. And also unlike football, where the opposing band could be upwards of 100 yards away, pep bands are typically a mere 94 feet apart. Conference tournaments are a time for rivalry, camaraderie, competition, and benchmarking. Pep bands get to see at least the band across the court an any given matchup and, depending on the tournament format, others in the conference as well. And on top of all that, tournament time often means a trip and a good deal of fun.

Now, as a fan, the pep bands are a huge part of what makes live tournament action far and away above even the excitement of the televised game. You'll note from my ACC Tourney twitrospective that most of my tweets are pep band related. That's by design, and for a few reasons. One is that I consider myself more well versed in breaking down horn swings than swingmen, and rim shots than foul shots. Another is that it's easier for me to tweet while paying full attention to the bands than it is to do the same while the teams are playing. But perhaps one of my most compelling reasons is that the piece of which I speak is the piece that goes largely unseen by those watching at home. Typically, when the bands are cranking, the TVs are on commercial break. And while the nature of televised basketball means that I don't argue that they should be televised during the tournament in the same manner I make that argument in the BCS, it doesn't mean I consider them any less important. To the contrary; in college basketball's smaller venues and with the pep band sometimes making up a significant portion of a team's fanbase and leading cheers and energizing the crowd, the pep band may matter more than their marching counterparts during football games. And moreso than in home arenas full of like-minded fans, fans at tournaments are truly paying attention.
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