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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Return of College Football and Off-Season Conference Un-Champions

First of all, let me just bask in the light at the end of a dismal tunnel. DCI notwithstanding, the summer is largely devoid of sports that keep my interest. They say it's always darkest before the dawn, and with college football/marching band less than 48 hours away, that dawn is on the horizon.

Too much? Didn't mean to wax that poetic, but honestly, I'm quite glad to seethe sport and activity that spawned the very name of this blog return. That said, this offseason was particularly active in terms of media surrounding the sport exposing some of the seedier underbelly and chipping away at the veneer I shall henceforth call "shamateurism", courtesy of Jason Whitlock, who brought the term to my attention. I still love college football, but I feel watching this year will require the same nose-holding typically reserved for wearing Nikes or shopping at Wal-Mart.

I'm not without a bit a oomph at the end of the off-season, however and so, from the six BCS auto-qualifying conferences, I bring you the Off-Season Conference Un-Champions.

ACC: This one's a no-brainer; the Shalal--er--shenanigans recently exposed down at Miami make the U a shoo-in for this conference title. UNC was not with out its share of media this summer with the Michael McAdoo situation and the firing of Butch Davis, but sadly (fortunately?) with the Nevin Shapiro happenings running wild in Coral Gables, the Heels couldn't even get out of the Coastal Division.

Big East: There is a bit of comfort in the fact that many aren't paying attention to the football side of the conference. West Virginia will wave the league's banner for their coach-in-waiting scuffle that handed Holgorsen the reins a year early, but by and large, things are relatively quiet in my home conference.

Big Ten: Clearly The Ohio State. But here's the interesting thing: Because I'm told these things are transferrable, they took the same award in the NFL as well. Oh wait...

Big XII: Two programs dominated the headlines as foils in a situation that may tear the league asunder. While Texas dipped its toes in the water of habitual line-stepping with the Longhorn Network, Texas A&M gets the nod. After all, having your own network isn't necessarily un-champion behavior. Hollering about how you're out and--at least at the time of this post--having nothing to show for it is.

Pac-12: I seem to recall that USC's still ineligible for the post-season, but like on the field in 2010 , they had a relatively quiet off-season anyway. The reigning conference football champions and national runners-up, however, are winning (losing?) in this arena as well. Oregon's run-ins with a "street agent" named Will(ie) Lyles put them above the rest.

SEC: LSU jumped out to a late lead to take this one. Anytime the phrase "kicked a Marine in the head" is thrown around your program, you can forget the word "allegedly" before it. You're already losing in the court of public opinion.

That's it for now; I'm hoping to crank one more out before the season starts ::checks watch:: tomorrow. Happy New Season!

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Sudler Fallacy

You've heard me use the Sudler Trophy as a high water mark for a marching band's achievement, and even as a bellwether for the marching strength of conferences. True enough, the Sudler Trophy, which by their own definition is awarded biannually (formerly annually) to "collegiate marching bands of particular excellence that have made outstanding contributions to the American way of life.  The Sudler Trophy will be awarded biannually to a college or university marching band which has demonstrated the highest of musical standards and innovative marching routines and ideas, and which has made important contributions to the advancement of the performance standards of college marching bands over a number of years." While it is by no means inconsequential, I do want to let it be known that the fallacy of using it as a sole or near-sole measure of a band's worth is not lost on me.

The biggest caveat with the Sudler Trophy is that is is only awarded once to any given band. In the past I have used the fallacious argument that the first band awarded was the best band, and each subsequent band was the best of the rest, but given the changing nature of bands, we all know that that isn't necessarily so, or even if it was true in 1982 when Michigan was awarded the first, it isn't necessarily true now. In fact, it's worth noting that there are marching bands (USF's Herd of Thunder being among them) that didn't even exist when the award came into being. While the one-time awarding speaks to tradition, which I find particularly important in the marching band world, what does a band do after the win? Continue the excellence? Stagnate? Innovate? It is also unclear on the evaluation period: Is it since the last was awarded? The past several years? Lifetime achievement?

I've used the Sudler Trophy to prop up a belief I hold that the Big Ten is the strongest marching conference. I fully admit the bias that leads me to this conclusion--having marched under a Michigan man, and marching traditional style is no small part of that. True enough, it's hard to deny--ten of the Big Ten's twelve members are Sudler Trophy winners and the conference, and they account for both primacy and recency: The conference won both the first three and the last one awarded to a member of a BCS AQ conference. But just for the sake of argument, let's rewind to 2005, just before Penn State won. There are two narratives that can be told there, and their contrast illustrates the difference in interpretations. At that point it would be correct to say that the seven Big Ten schools had won, more than any other conference. But here's another interpretation: "Man, the Big Ten hasn't won a Sudler in a decade. In that time, the SEC's won four, the Big XII has won three, hell, the Big East and even a I-AA program have won. The marching world sure is passing the Big Ten by." Which is correct?

Here's another one: Let's say the question is asked: What's the best marching band in the Big East? If you're using the Sudler Trophy as your barometer, you'd have to say the Pride of West Virginia. But take a look at the landscape in 1997, when WVU won: The Herd of Thunder wasn't yet in existence. UConn was playing I-AA ball (this isn't to say that lower level programs can't win; indeed, three I-AA programs hold Sudlers) and Cincinnati and Louisville were still in Conference USA. What's to say that things haven't changed significantly in the last decade and a half?

Bands that have hoisted Lord Sudler (yeah, I went there) should absolutely be proud of their accomplishment, and I will probably still use it in some instances as a measure of a band's cred. But I can't pretend it is the be-all, end-all. I'd love to see another such annual (or hell, weekly) award come into being as another measure.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Eastbound

So as much time as I spent painting Missouri as the next logical addition to the SEC, I'm going to backpedal just a bit. While I still think they make the most sense given all factors, If--and it's a big if--Virginia Tech didn't use up all of their political cloud on the move to the ACC, they'd be a a solid pickup for the SEC.

Let's ignore for a second that this would leapfrog the state of North Carolina (though Clay Travis has a solution for that); Virginia also touches SEC states Tennessee and Kentucky, particularly Southwest VA where Tech is located. Breaking up UNC/Duke/NC State notwithstanding (I think they'd leave Wake behind, but as Clef said, you can try, but you can't divide the tri) Virginia Tech makes a ton of sense. They've got a strong football tradition--probably one of a handful of ACC schools who thinks football before basketball--and expands the SEC footprint, likely capturing eyes in Washington DC, throughout the state of Virginia, and even into NC.

But one of the things that makes Tech make a ton of sense is the foil they provide for Texas A&M. First of all, logistically, adding Virginia Tech over Missouri or another western school allows the SEC to maintain its divisions as we know them; adding two schools in the west redraws the line between the Iron Bowl, and I don't see that happening. But Virginia Tech and Texas A&M also share a military tradition with their respective Corps of Cadets. The SEC could preserve all other crossover rivalries, bring in Virginia Tech and Texas A&M, and start a new crossover: The War of the Corps. While it's not the Army-Navy game, it would give the SEC its own answer.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

SECession

(I'm posting from my phone as my wife drives through southern VA. Given the medium, this won't be nearly as fleshed out as I'd like.)

This weekend,the internet has once again been abuzz with Texas A&M to the SEC rumors. There was some such buzz last summer as the fate of the Big XII laid in the balance amidst the departure of Colorado and Nebraska to the Pac-12 and Big Ten, respectively, and now it seems that many things, not the least of which is the Longhorn Network, have Texas playing "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!" to A&M's Jan. While it seems the SEC move may not happen in internet time (read: yesterday) there's been no closed door to tell us it may not be close on the horizon.

Should this move take place, I don't see the SEC standing pat at 13. One more school will move, and my money is on Missouri. Sexy choices like Florida State, Clemson, and Virginia Tech from the ACC have been batted around, but save for VT, these schools don't add media markets; Florida and South Carolina, already in the SEC, bring eyeballs in their respective states. VT could have other issues, finding themselves legislatively beholden to UVA for the wheeling and dealing that got Tech into the ACC in the first place. In contrast, Mizzou brings TV sets in St. Louis and Kansas City, and their jookeying for position back during Big Ten expansion has already made the statement that their loyalty lies with the highest bidder.

While such moves would take the Big XII-now-X down to VIII, surprisingly enough, I don't see it as a death knell for them. Conventional wisdom is that Texas is well-equipped to go it alone, and while that may be true, there is a certain comfort to conference scheduling, especially in non-football sports, and unless it's been in he plans already anyway, I don't see the Horns allowing the Aggies to dictate the terms of their independence in quite this manner. Rather, I see the Big XII re-expanding to a conference that, while not nearly as powerful as the pre-2011 edition, is still viable. Returning to ten would be as easy as calling a recently soaring Houston and a back-from-the-death-penalty SMU to the ranks (don't worry, Conference USA. You can always raid the Sun Belt or wait around for recent startups like South Alabama, UTSA, or Charlotte.) If a return to 12 is desired, throw in old Southwest Conference buddy Rice to an all-Lone-Star south division, and give BYU (let them keep their TV deal, Texas has one) or Boise State a call to round out the north. New alignments with minimal deck chair shuffling, at least in the AQ conferences.

Meanwhile, in the new look SEC, consider this: before correcting for any division realignment, consider that the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band joins the likes of the Million Dollar Band, the Razorback Band, the Auburn University Marching Band, and the Golden Band from Tiger Land in a Sudler Trophy-laced division that seeks to rival anything any Leaders or Legends can cook up.

Finally it's worth noting that after A&M and TCU move, Texas would be the second state with representation in three AQ conferences, with the other being similarly talent-rich Florida. Coincidence? Of course not.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Feeding Both Beasts

For as long as I've been a drum corps fan, I've thought about making the trip to Allentown for the DCI Eastern Classic. Spread over two days, this event is typically one of the last major events of the season, save for World Championships. I've heard the fans, the stadium, and the show are great, and in eastern PA, it's on my home stomping grounds. Now I've got one more reason to head up there.

I don't know how I hadn't put two and two together before, but J. Birney Crum stadium is a mere 6.5 miles from Lehigh University in nearby Bethlehem. You know what takes place there in August? Philadelphia Eagles training camp! This means that one could conceivably head to Eagles camp, head out, set up to tailgate for DCI (and I've heard the tailgate lot is in a great location to catch lot warmups), head to the show, get up the next morning, and do it all over again. What's more, with this year's schedule, I could have rounded out the weekend skipping over to New Jersey for the Tour of Champions event at the Meadowlands. Add to that the proximity to family, potential side excursions to Dorney Park, Philly, or New York, and the fact that I work in higher ed so this could provide a great near-endcap to my summer, and this is a must-do at some point in the future.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sights and Sounds from One-and-a-Fraction Drum Corps Shows

In the past week I went to NightBEAT (which, unfortunately, was rained out) and the Summer Music Games of Southwest Virginia. The podcast accounts are here and here, respectively, but I also wanted to share some of the photos and audio I gathered at each event.

NightBEAT:


Pulling into Rock Hill, I was behind this beaut.


Bluecoats basses.


Crown's drums are HOT HOT HOT!

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The Blue Stars' tenors warming up.


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Blue Stars basses, but I really took this moreso to show off how much the stadium/lots were in the neighborhood. Think that dog wants on hornline?

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Bluecoats basses, though their tenors, just offscreen, are just as audible.

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One of the glimpses I got into the Tour of Champions concept before the rains came. This one part of the pre-show entertainment: A Santa Clara Vanguard horn ensemble playing the Bottle Dance portion from the 1992 Fiddler on the Roof show. This is my favorite moment in one of my favorite shows, so that alone made it worth it. and I intentionally didn't do the "VANGUARD!" shout since I was filming; sadly, it would seem the rest of those assembled didn't know to.

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Cadets' bass drums also gave us a pre-show treat.


And finally, photographic evidence of the Blue Stars, the one corps that actually got to take the field.

Summer Music Games of Southwest Virginia:

Yes, you read that right. One-Oh-Friggin'-Four. And while sometimes that gauge is a bit off, it wasn't by much.




Lots: Mandarins drumline and Jersey Surf horn arc.

Salem Stadium sits next to the baseball stadium that's home to the Salem Red Sox.







Some shots of what really is a beautiful venue for drum corps.


And finally, the Cadets' retreat. While I respect DCI's prohibition of recording devices, I decided to follow the spirit of the law; it exists so as to protect copyrights held by composers and arrangers, so this violates none of that. And while I know you've heard me dis the Cadets before, thy are actually a few years removed from the nonsense that got on my nerves, and in fact I love this year's show.

Art Imitating Sports Imitating Art

In noting parallels between college athletics and drum corps, I've often equated DCI's Tour of Champions and the proposal that created it with the BCS. After all, the outcome of the latter and the assumed outcome of the former is to deepen the rift between the haves and have-nots. Each system rewards those already at the top of the structure, and in each case an underclass is created from which it is nigh unto impossible to emerge to a championship.

At the time of the proposal in DCI, many--myself included--asked if this was planting the seeds for secession from the league. Now, in similar fashion, there are rumblings that schools may be considering seceding from the NCAA. Accounts of exactly who differ; the BCS auto-qualifying conferences and their member institutions are an obvious break point, but it could also be a smaller subset of the truly elites: The Texas, Alabamas, and USCs of the world.

While it is a bit melodramatic to say that the NCAA is fatally flawed, it will likely be "creative differences" that lead to a secession, if one does occur. This isn't the first time such talks have been bandied about over a difference in philosophy; it has often been stated that should big-time college football seek to go to a playoff, the Big Ten and Pac-12 could very well take their ball (the Rose Bowl) and go home. This time through, a major potential impetus is over the status of the student-athlete [sic], compensation, and the rules that bind them. Interestingly enough, again, the Big Ten is among the conferences at odds with the NCAA.

Where this ends up remains to be seen. While we are less than a year into the situation in DCI, it would seem that the league acquiesced to, or at least compromised with, the desires of The Undersigned. There seem to be indications that the NCAA is willing to "examine changes," but who knows what is meant by that? What's more, if schools are thinking about it, what are the possibilities that it seems just too lucrative to pass up.

If secession were to take place, would it be altogether horrible? EDUsports examined it pretty thoroughly in a recent podcast. If it were the truly big time programs breaking off, then their football and basketball programs may more formally become what they've essentially been for years: A developmental league for the NFL/NBA, cloaked in university colors. Questions remain as to what relationship, if any, they would have to the NCAA schools. If this new offshoot played entirely within itself, we'd be seeing blockbuster matchups week in and week out. The corollary, of course, is that we'd have to get used to college football records looking more like NFL records. The undefeated season would be a relatively unknown quantity. And what of the bowls? Does this New World Order take them as well? Keep the BCS? Institute *gasp* a playoff?

Also consider this: with the big boys out of the way, the teams/corps that have to this point experienced a glass ceiling can compete for a championship. Boise State, TCU, Utah, and Hawaii have been in the close-but-no-cigar seat. TCU and Utah, of course, are trading up to try and get theirs, but those who have been allowed to gaze upon the ring but never grasp it may now compete for a championship in the new look NCAA. In DCI, consider the battles that are taking place this year both for the #8 spot (last in for the Tour of Champions in its current format) and the #12 spot (last in for World Championships). If The Undersigned were its own entity, those folks are now in a medal hunt or even battling for the top prize. And while many eyes would turn to the New World Order, the NCAA would not be without its supporters--especially now that the also-rans are now title contenders. Further, college football is among the most popular sports in the country. They'll be watching, and regardless of what new name or shape it may take, I suspect that that which we call a Rose Bowl will smell as sweet.
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