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Thursday, September 29, 2011

The only thing to fear...

Fear is, for the most part, a learned response. Save for a few biological imperatives, nearly everything that we has humans fear is based on something we've learned, either from experience or through the wisdom of others. Life as a sports fan isn't much different. We learn through experience to fear certain occurrences. We may call them jinxes, or curses, or any host of other things, but there are things that when they show up on your schedule, you fear the die is already cast. Sadly, in my life as an Eagles fan, one of those is the NFC Championship game.

As a USF fan, a few of those things come into play for this week's matchup vs. Pitt. First of all, Pitt themselves owns victories in the past three games vs. the Bulls. For the past five seasons--every season in the Big East except for our very first--USF has started conference play 1-2, dropping the conference opener in three of those seasons. This corresponds with the "mid-season swoon" phenomenon we've experienced the past several years. On top of all of that, this is a Thursday night game, where USF is winless over the same time period. It's a helluva combo for the FootBulls.

But there is hope. Jim Leavitt as much as I still love him as the architect of USF's football program, was also the architect of most of those midseason slumps. And while Holtz also started 1-2 last year, it had a much different feel to it. Pitt is in their first year with a new head coach, and while I realize the transitive property doesn't work in sports, I will note that they lost to Notre Dame, who USF beat, Finally, this year's USF program appears to be taking care of business in a way that others have not. While this year's competition thus far has included an FCS matchup and two non-AQs, I will note that, particularly in the cases of UTEP and FAMU, USF dispensed with them in the manner a big time program is "supposed" to, which ahsn't always been the case. B.J. Daniels seems more mature of a passer than he was last year. So while a healthy dose of fear remains, I feel good about our chances of getting it done. Go Bulls!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Comfortably Numb

(And no, that's not the new studio album from the Northwestern University Marching Band)

It was just over a week ago that the announcement was made that Pittsburgh and Syracuse would be the latest two schools to leave the Big East conference for the ACC. I'll be the first to admit I was a bit blindsided; in the most recent expansion I felt, surprisingly, the the Big East was in a position of power. The ACC didn't seem to be planning any power moves and seemed ripe for fleecing from SEC expansion, while it seemed the Big East may be picking up the pieces from a decimated Big XII. There had been rumors of Texas to both coasts, via the ACC or the Pac-Tweezy, but they continue to prove to be the Great White Buffalo to all suitors. In an era of big media and big mouths, the ACC, Syracuse, and Pitt kept their wheelings and dealings surprisingly quiet until it was time to pull the trigger.

When I--along with fans of other Big East schools who fear being left behind in the superconference rapture--heard the news, the proclamations of the falling sky was loud and clear. As a USF alum, I'll admit I feared a return to Conference USA or the like. A look at the map of Big East and Big XII leftovers, had Texas, Texas A&M, OU, and Oklahoma State headed west as it seemed was evident, shows a surprisingly neat east-west swath bounded roughly by I-70 and I-90 with three notable outliers: Baylor, TCU, and USF. Three also happens to be the magic number of schools that would need to be left out to fit into the neat little 64 team scenario. But in the past week, a bit more news has come to light that puts superconference talk on hold, at least for the time being. The Pac-12 has stated that they are staying at that very number. The remaining members of the Big XII have pledged allegiance to one another, to at a confort level that has allowed them to legally clear Texas A&M to make the jump to the SEC, which is now official. So while the ACC won the race to 14, 16 still has not been realized by anyone and doesn't seem to be a done deal, at least not yet.

It's easy to place blame on Syracuse and Pitt for this move and the then-believe demise of the Big East, but quite frankly, I can't blame them. This isn't the situation from 2005 that led Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech out of the conference and USF, Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette, and DePaul in. At this juncture, there is credible reason to believe that the Big East was in mortal danger, and Pitt and Cuse were heading for more stable ground. I can't blame them for that; in fact, you've heard me in this very blog state that while I love the Big East and what it has meant to USF, I'd welcome a move to the ACC. Similarly, I'm hard-pressed to blame the ACC for poaching. While I don't know which side started it, we know that Pitt and Cuse applied to the ACC, and similarly, they had reason to believe that if they didn't make steps towards the 16 team reality, they too would be left behind.

The ACC looks stronger for the change. They do northern outlier Boston College a solid by bridging the gap between College Park and Chestnut Hill. They bring in two programs who, if they don't strengthen the football picture, certainly won't weaken it. They make an already strong basketball conference downright beastly, and they move ACC lacrosse one step closer to being a real conference with an AQ they don't need.

That said, I'm interested to see the culture of the new conference, and I'll have a front row seat for it. Certainly before the last expansion, and even afterwards with the exception of BC (and to a lesser extent, UMCP and Miami) the ACC was at its core a southeastern conference. The Syracuse and Pittsburgh basketball fans will be trading in Madison Square Garden for the Greensboro Coliseum; Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim has already made his voice heard on that change. The venue change is palpable, and that's to say nothing for the potential culture shock. And while the geographic center of the ACC is still pretty close to Greensboro, the addition of two more northern schools may have the conference thinking of locales like DC, Philly, and maybe even NYC itself for both the conference tournament and the football championship. And while it's an interesting proposition, consider the likes of Miami or Florida State--and their respective fanbases--headed to Philly in December.

So what's next for the ACC? Will the make the push to 16? Rumor has it they have already turned down an application from West Virginia, which helps hammer home my point that conference expansion has little to do with competitive acumen and everything to do with media markets. UConn and Rutgers have been rumored as potential targets; picking up both would strengthen their northeastern/NYC presence and push the conference to 16. It's worth noting, from the band perspective, that they'd be a conference 16 teams deep with still no Sudler to speak of. And while I realize football drives the bus, I honestly think that the ACC should look at Hopkins as a lacrosse-only expansion target. While Hopkins has been traditionally independent, three of their annual rivals, Syracuse, UVA, and College Park, are now in one place in the ACC. Might not be a bad line to cast.

Finally, what will become of the Big East? Well if the carousel has stopped here, or even with the departure of Rutgers and/or UConn, I think the plan is what it was back in 2005: Rebuild. ECU has reportedly already applied (this NC resident and Conference-USA-era alum would welcome this); Temple's recent success has had them mentioned as a possibility, despite their history with the conference. And there's still the possibility the Big XII will destabilize, most likely through a Mizzou-to-SEC move. I can speculate with the best of them, but the real answer is that we'll all just have to stay tuned.

High Notes 2011: Weeks 3 and 4

I'm just getting around to posting Week 3's high notes; this past week at UNCG was Homecoming, keeping me plenty busy. I mentioned last time around that I'm a creature of habit as to the games I watch. As such, just knowing that I'd be watching USF's game vs. FAMU, it should come at no surprise to anyone that the Marching 100 get my week 3 recognition. Interestingly enough, I wasn't sure I'd be able to see them. Because it wasn't an HBCU-on-HBCU game, I didn't know if I could expect ESPN to pay their normal band lip service. I did get a text Brian over at Big Blue Homer telling me that he saw and enjoyed FAMU's band, and that he wished they showed bands more often (I told him he was preaching to the choir) but despite watching with rapt attention and even replaying the ESPN3 feed, I didn't see the 100. Maybe the Blue & Gold Marching Machine lobby here in Greensboro had them blacked out? At any rate, luckily the internet had my back.

My recognition for Week 4 is similar to what it was at this time last year. Because I saw very little college football (and that which I did catch was in a restaurant with no sound on) my recognition goes to the one marching band--or rather, band who marched--that I did see: UNCG's Bands of Sparta. The official pep band of UNCG Athletics participated in our Homecoming Parade again this year, their second year on the march with the mobility of field drums acquired last off-season. The Bands of Sparta had an additional treat for us as well--a new fight song! I'm not sure if I had mentioned this here before or not--I try not to bash the employer on the internet--but it had long been a bone of contention for me that UNCG's fight song was that of Northwestern University. The new fight song is distinct enough that it is a Spartan original, yet similar enough that it's still got the same feel of Go U Northwestern and won't give any Spartan fans whiplash adjusting. The rewrite was handled deftly, and I'm told credit is due to Pete Borotto, a senior composition major in UNCG's renowned School of Music, Theatre, & Dance. I'm glad it exists and it was great to see the Bands of Sparta bring it to life!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

More Than the Eyes of Texas Upon You

Another day, another realignment rumor. The latest, seemingly founded, is Syracuse and Pitt in talks with the ACC. Still one of the big shoes we're all waiting on to drop is Texas. Recent rumors have them heading out west and hooking up with Larry Scott the Hustler's Pac-Tweezy, or coming east as a member of the ACC. While we're all flinging turds at a wall, allow me to add this one: Texas to the Big East.

ACC, of course, is the conventional eastern choice, but let me point out a few things. First of all, the ACC as as conference has been the most true to its definition; that is each of its schools are currently in states that touch the Atlantic coast, and even with Pitt and Syracuse, that would only change slightly (we'll allow the Delaware River, PA.) While I realize realignment has folks considering the otherwise unthinkable to stay alive, but this would be a fairly radical move for a historically conservative conference.

If Texas wants to come east, here are some of the big gets with the Big East option:

-Longhorn Network in NYC. I can't overstate how huge this is. And it's not just the biggest media market in the country. The Big East also makes logical inroads for the LHN in Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Tampa; add that to DFW and Houston, which Texas already has, and the Longhorns now have their network in seven of the top ten media markets east of the Rockies. That alone should be enough to at least make Texas pick up the phone.

-Coming East, the Horns only have to travel one time zone, vs. being two time zones away from the meat of their Pac-12 brethren if they joined that conference. In the Big East, Texas would have some Central time Zone company.

-A travel partner/potential rival: With TCU joining the Big East, Texas won't be alone on an island as they would be in the ACC. With rivalries with Texas A&M and Oklahoma potentially falling to the wayside, picking one back up with old Southwest Conference foe TCU would keep at least some sense of stability. Selfishly, I'd be interested in the USF and Texas locking horns in a Battle of the Cattle. Only one hand sign needed.

-Big East Basketball. It will take a hit if we lose Pitt and Syracuse, but it's still one of the best things going.

-Finally, the Big East has historically been a pushover. Sorry, but the truth hurts. We've allowed Notre Dame to get away with that all-sports-but-football mess for all this time, and we even let Syracuse call pretty much all of the shots with Big East lacrosse came into being. I think that, for the sake of conference viability, the conference would allow Texas whatever advantageous revenue sharing agreement they drafted, keeping Texas in the driver's seat, right where they want to be.

Friday, September 16, 2011

High Notes 2011: Week 2

I spent most of this past football Saturday over in Winston-Salem, and though I saw folks headed to the NC State-Wake Forest, I didn't attend that game. I was home for the evening games, and gave most of my attention to the USF-Ball State game while keeping an eye on Northwestern State-LSU, Texas-BYU, and of course, Notre Dame-Michigan. The fireworks on the field gave Michigan plenty of opportunities to strike up the band and earn Michigan this week's recognition.

This is where I call upon you, the reader: I'm in my second year of High Notes, and I can foresee the potential of it getting stale. In addition to the football itself, I will gravitate towards bands I like, and I've already laid my biases on the table. This is where you come in. Got a game you think I should be watching? Let me know--via comment, e-mail, tweet, or call to the "Phone Tap" Hotline - 302-364-0926. I'll do my best to watch!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Guest Band Nerd Credit

When breaking down the upcoming matchup between USF and FAMU, Ken, the proprietor over at Voodoo Five saw fit to go a slightly different direction. Amidst the normal offensive and defensive breakdowns, he shifted focus to what FAMU's really known for on a football field: The Marching 100. In doing so, he reached out to me to provide some commentary from a band perspective. Check it out!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

High Notes 2011: Week 1

Another year, another crop of High Notes recognitions. Week 1 for me is pretty easy to call, both because they performed excellently and because I spent most of the day Saturday on one game. The Band of the Fighting Irish was excellent, though they got jobbed out of their halftime performance by the weather. I was pleased to learn that their halftime show for all home games is broadcast on, further proof that Notre Dame's TV contract > yourn. I was similarly pleased that Notre Dame didn't go All 80 though; good to see that their football team couldn't get it done against my Bulls.

That said, this past week brought to light a couple of low notes as well. One was courtesy of ESPN who I've railed against ESPN and their horrible band coverage before. I understand they're under no obligation to show the bands, but here's where they really got on my nerves (and, judging by Twitter, many others): At halftime of the MEAC/SWAC Challenge, they mentioned heading "Back for the Battle of the Bands". What followed was commercial-length snippets of both the Bethune-Cookman and Prairie View A&M bands, complete with horrible camera angles and unflattering portions of their show. Luckily, the internet came through with feeds of both performances, linked above.

My last low note comes from the NFL. I was looking at the schedule of the Ohio University Marching 110, and this entry jumped out at me:


Bengals Performance CANCELLED:  "Due to league-wide initiatives...the NFL is beginning to go a different route with halftime and using a NFL RedZone show instead.  Besides contractually obligated deals with the Bengals, we (Bengals) will no longer be having any halftime performances."

I wish I could see the entire text of this communique, but the way it reads sounds like the NFL will be shutting out high school and college marching bands left and right. Certainly a sad development. I don't know what the "RedZone Show" is, but something tells me it will solidify the NFL as the only type of football where I actually go to the bathroom or the concessions stand during halftime.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Those Damn Uniforms

Photo courtesy of Maryland Football Facebook page
My name is Curtis Tarver, and I am a Terps uniform apologist.

I'm not saying I love them, but I certainly don't hate them like it seems so many do.

First of all, let's get one thing clear: Don't think for a second that it's lost on me that the reaction we're all having is exactly what UnderArmour and the Terps wanted. These uniforms in primetime on Labor Day? Of course it's a publicity stunt. But in the process, they ended up with uniforms that I actually find a bit endearing.

Let me first lay all of my biases on the table. I am a Marylander by association--that is, I went to undergrad in the state (UMBC), I married a Maryland native and have a bunch of Maryland friends and in-laws. I also have a good deal of my own family hailing from the Free State. In addition, I'm a bit of a vexillology (the study of flags) enthusiast, as well as a fan of heraldry, in which Maryland's state flag is deeply steeped. Interestingly enough, this isn't the first time I've found myself defending College Park uniforms on those very merits.

For starters, if you hate Maryland's flag, you're obviously going to hate the uniforms. If you're willing to look past that fact or at least understand the flag, here's the cliff notes version: The two themes represented in the flag are from the Calvert and Crossland coats of arms. The Calvert portion--the black and gold in the upper left and lower right which you also see represented in the Baltimore flag--is the coat of arms of Maryland's colonial founder, while the red and white Crossland portion is from Calvert's maternal side of the family. I've always given credit to College Park for representing all of the colors of their state flag; while most associate red and white with the Terps, their official school colors are actually red, white, black and gold, all of the colors of the state flag. They often make efforts to represent at least some of each of these colors in their uniform design.

Photo courtesy of the Maryland Football facebook page
Now I will admit that the Calvert/Crossland colors on both the helmet and the shoulders may be a bit of overkill, and I probably wouldn't have opted for such. That said, I'd consider adding that helmet to the permanent rotation. With both used, however, I think UnderArmour/the Terps fell just short of an opportunity in front of them. Have they seen fit to reverse the order of the flag pieces on the shoulders, they would have ended up with a truer representation of the Maryland state flag. With that configuration, a down lineman would quite literally be the Maryland flag staring you in the face. THAT's where they should have set their sights.

An Online Alternative?

I had the pleasure this weekend of watching a Notre Dame football  broadcast on NBC. While that may sound sarcastic, I genuinely enjoyed it. USF was playing in South Bend and supplied the whoopin' for which the Irish genrtously provided the ass.

If you've never watched a Notre Dame game broadcast, it's a bit of a sight to behold in terms of propaganda. Notre Dame has an exclusive contract with NBC for their home games, the product of which is essentially a 3+ hour commercial for the school. This sort of unparalleled coverage is only starting to meet its match, with the likes of the Longhorn Network, BYU's own network, and to a lesser extent, conference-specific networks like the Big Ten Network.

Here's where the Notre Dame broadcast got particularly interesting to me. Before they broke for the half, the announcement was made: If you would like to see the Band of the Fighting Irish's halftime performance, you can view it live on Yes, Notre Dame's propaganda machine is so thorough that even the band gets airtime. Naturally, I halted all halftime plans and went looking for the broadcast, but unfortunately, the weather that ultimately led to a 2 hour halftime kept them from performing. Still, the effort was noted and appreciated.

Digital media for sports broadcasting is still in its relative infancy; in most cases, online features consist either of a simulcast of televised content or games that won't fit on the regular networks. I was intrigued to see this sort of "added value" piece as an option to expand Notre Dame's already immense offerings, and I think it makes absolute sense for other schools/conferences with their own networks to follow suit. Missouri, for example, has a network on the way (as does K-State, which to some degree sounds like a vote of no confidence in the Big XII, but that's another story) and it has been spoken of not as a revenue stream but as a promotional tool for the university as a whole. So I'm not saying that this needs to be done out of any sort of magnanimity to us starved band nerds out here. It truly makes good sense.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Going All 80

(Today's a great example of "The best laid plans of mice and men..." I had meant to post this before the first games began, but life gets in the way. I'll keep that which I already wrote in its original tense; hope it's not too confusing.)

In the waning hours before the college football season officially kicks off (or, more accurately from my perspective, before the first pregames step off) I can hardly contain my excitement. Each year, the return of the college football/marching season is like seeing an old friend. It also gives me an added jolt to make things happen here--while I have sports/activities I follow year round, the fall is where my true passion lies.

What can you expect from me this season? Simply--and hopefully--more. I'll definitely return to the High Notes feature I began last year. The Band on the Road Project is, of course, a huge addition, and now that I've gotten that as complete as possible, I may look to add a matchup of the week-type feature. Another thought is some sort of recognition of those who go "All 80"--that is, excel during the 60 minutes of the game and the 20 minutes of halftime. I will say this, however: My commitment to "more" is tempered by the fact that this will be my daughter Anastasia's first football season, so time will only tell what my fall Saturday schedule will look like.

I thought of doing something bombastic prior to the season like an "All 80" Top 25, or conference champions. Here's what makes this difficult. There's relatively little coverage of college marching bands to be found, and virtually nothing that addresses these bands in the macro sense. That's simply a declarative statement, it's not meant to read as "woe is me" or "look at me, I'm special". That said, while I've got at least some familiarity with most marching bands isn the BCS auto-qualifying conferences (and quite a few more from the non-AQ and FCS ranks) I've got no intel on how they may change year to year, like who's looking particularly strong in band camp or who graduated a bunch of seniors and has a young snare line.

There is one recognition I do want to make: College football's "All 80" division. While you've heard me tout my love of Big Ten marching and point out that both the Legends and Leaders divisions have five of six bands holding a Sudler Trophy, All 80 recognition has to go to the SEC West. On the football side of things, division members Auburn, Alabama, and LSU have won three of the last four BCS national championships. Marching-wise, their three respective bands all have Sudler Trophies and, from what I've seen, have kept on trucking--in fact, I recognized each of them in High Notes last season and gave Auburn an All 80 recognition before I had even coined the concept. The division has another Sudler in the Arkansas Razorback Band, and should Texas A&M join the fray, will have yet another. I think it's a pick that football fans and band fans alike would have a hard time disputing.

As I wrap this up, a couple of Band on the Road games are already underway. So glad to have it all back!
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