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Monday, January 2, 2012

Doing too much or doing it right?

So first of all, happy new year! As you can probably guess, New Year's Day (or in this case, 1/2), filled with parades and college football, is essentially a high holy day over here. I hope you've enjoyed the Big Band Bowl Battle, but I realize that a corollary is that I haven't given y'all much else in a couple weeks. There's probably a year in review coming up in not too long, as it has the past two years, but in the mean time...

While I will admit to a relatively small sample size, it seems that when it comes to basketball games that fall over school breaks (most notably winter break) major conference schools are more likely to go bare bones with respect to pep band, cheerleaders, and other spirit squads than mid-majors (side note-calling every non-major school a mid-major is like your smallest size being a "medium", but I digress). As a member of the pep band at UMBC, then a Northeast Conference school, I expected to be at every home basketball game, even those that fell over break, and with six week layoff between fall and spring semesters, it was a sizable break. I don't recall it ever having been explicitly stated to us, and pep band was a semesterly course, so there was no grade hanging over our head between semesters, but I think all of us just sort of understood our commitment to be for the basketball season, and we did our best to attend those games, which for me meant driving just over an hour from Wilmington, DE to Catonsville. And on the rare occasions I couldn't make it, it wasn't because the band was off-duty. Now, working at UNCG, a Southern Conference school, I see the same from our pep band: Regardless of when the game falls, there is a band presence.

In contrast, a few winters ago I headed up to Virginia Tech for a game. UMBC was playing there over break, and Blacksburg's only a slight detour from the path we beat between Greensboro and MD/DE for the holidays, so we made the trip. No cheerleaders. No band. No student section to speak of. Similarly, a recent article detailing the UNCG game at Duke this past December spoke of the "replacement" band they brought in during break. And my friend Brian, who was covering a few games in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for Rush the Court, told a similar tale: No pep bands present, and cheerleaders generally lacking.

So why is that? I've got a few theories. One is that the mid-majors are more likely to be regional institutions, meaning that band members and cheerleaders probably live closer to the school and it's easier to get a critical mass together. The majors, by contrast, draw from a a wider area, making it tough to make it back, especially if residence halls are closed. How could we have expected the Duke pep band to make the trip back to Durham from New Jersey over the holidays? Another theory is the importance, real or perceived, of those spirit squads to the overall picture of college hoops at the institution. While attendance was low at the Tech game I attended, I'm sure their coffers weren't hurting any, and those who showed up showed up because they wanted to see Hokie hoops. Mid-majors may be more likely to sell the entire package, which includes cheer, dance, and pep bands. Finally, the fact of the matter is, when UMBC or UNCG is playing a game over break, it is at least someone on our level, with the occasional chance that we're bringing in a heavier hitter. At VT, for example, they were playing a mid-major they fully expected to beat during the week of Christmas. Forgive them for not rolling out the red carpet for that one.

So who's right? My bias is clear, and while I can't fault those who have a harder time getting the band back together, kudos to the schools providing the full experience every time.
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