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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bands Behaving Badly

If you were watching the NCAA Tournament this past week, specifically the Southern Miss-K-State game, it's possible you were taken aback by this:

While not in the foreground, spectators can clearly be heard chanting "Where's your green card?" as Angel Rodriguez, a Latino player who hails from Puerto Rico, takes the line. Those spectators were members of the Southern Miss band.


The president of Southern Miss issued a statement before the day was out that this did not represent the views of the University or the pep band, and the news came earlier today that the offending students had been removed from the pep band and had their scholarships revoked, among other sanctions. While I've been on the internet long enough to know better, I couldn't help but read the comments in that and other related articles. Those who believed  that the disciplinary actions taken were too harsh seemed to harp on the loss of scholarships, seemingly believing that the students lost full rides and not the couple hundred dollars that is probably more likely to have been the scholarship amount.

First of all, I think that Southern Miss did the right thing and I applaud their efforts.The actions of these students were a black eye on what should have been a joyous occasion for the Golden Eagles--making the tournament field after an 11 year drought and playing on national television. In fact, the fact that it was on this stage is both why any of us are even aware this took place and why Southern Miss had to act. The chant was, of course, bigoted (and ill-informed, considering that as a Puerto Rican man, Rodriguez is and has always been a US citizen) and reflects ill on the school and frankly, the deep south as a whole--how many folks decried the bigotry while simultaneously displaying their own prejudice: "Well, it IS Mississippi."

Full disclosure: I hail from a pep band that has had brushes with the best of judgment before. While we generally steered clear of personal attacks and certainly didn't rise to this level of bigotry, there has been the occasional referee warning, at least one tech that I can remember, and having been asked to write a remorseful letter to a certain faith-based school after our demeanor at a conference tournament was *ahem* less than holy. Still, our actions took place largely in our own gym and occasionally at a conference tournament. And in the days before ESPN3 and ESPNU, there was no chance that a Northeastern Conference quarterfinal matchup was being seen by anyone not there in the gym. Whatever misrepresentation we made of UMBC Athletics was between us, our conferencemates, and perhaps a local reporter. Southern Miss had both the benefit and misfortune of putting theirs forth for the world to see.

Monday, March 19, 2012

March Victorious

USF's season just ended with a loss to the Ohio Bobcats in the NCAA Tournament's round of 32. While I won't claim a moral victory by insisting the Bulls were victorious in defeat, the trek here was indeed an accomplishment on the part of USF.

For reference: USF had a lot of history behind it, and little was good. Before this year, USF was nursing a two decade drought from NCAA tournament participation, at the time the 4th longest. The Bulls were one of three teams from a Big Six (read: BCS) conference never to have notched a victory in the tournament, its only company being Northwestern, which has never made the tourney, and Nebraska. And seven years ago, when a far-from-powerhouse basketball team was thrust into the mighty Big East conference, it seemed we had little hope of even finishing out of the bottom half of the league's teams.

Wins, particularly those in conference, were hard to come by under former head coach Robert McCullum, and didn't seem to show immense improvement under Stan Heath, with two notable exceptions. The Bulls found themselves in the league's bottom three with the exception of 2009-2010, when USF was an NIT first round knockout, and this year, where, tied for 4th in the conference, USF was invited to the Big Dance as a "First Four" participant.

I'll be honest. First Four still sounds a whole lot like play-in to me. After all, if you don't even get your own line on a bracket, face it, it's a play in. Still, I was impressed to see USF's dominance in that initial game vs. Cal, and was particularly pleased when USF pulled the upset of 5 seed Temple. After all, while the first win was, technically speaking, a tournament victory, without the Temple win, USF would have remained one of the schools never to have reached the round of 32.

At that point--perhaps before--I knew we were on borrowed time. Still, I started feeling pretty good about our Sweet Sixteen chances, especially when a 13-4 upset by the Ohio Bobcats meant we'd actually be the higher seeded team in the matchup. Unfortunately, Ohio proved too much for the Bulls, and the tourney trip ended in the first weekend.

Still, I'm proud of them. In my schizo world of college hoops (I follow three-and-a-half teams; my two alma maters, my current employer, and I keep an eye on UMCP) it was nice to be paying full-on attention to USF. And with a talented freshman point guard leading the way, I think the future's bright.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Tales from Asheville

 I made the trip out to Asheville this weekend for the Southern Conference tournament. While I was there to support UNCG, the ultimate decision to make the trip was helped along at least in part by the lure of seeing eight of the 12 pep bands in the conference live.

I started out around 8 or so on Saturday morning. Asheville sits about three hours to my west, and the first game--UNCG's--tipped off at noon. On the way up, when stopping for breakfast, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a couple of young ladies--presumably students--also headed westward.

Getting into town, I was reminded that Asheville, where I've spent precious little time, is a damn cool city. The short walk between the deck where I parked and the arena took me past quite a few cute little shops and eateries, and walking that drag a couple more times during the day took me past street musicians and a generally vibrant community. Walking towards the arena, I almost got hit by a Western Carolina fan turning a corner. He paused briefly and, noticing my UNCG apparel, told me to be sure to beat App State. Yes, the Battle for the Mountain Jug is alive and well out that way.

Headed into the arena, it actually felt quite a bit like what I remember from the NEC tournament, though I haven't attended that one in a decade. I walked in right next to the UNCG pep band (actually just shortly after having gotten a tweet from the director) and rested there for a moment before settling in behind the basket, still adjacent to the band. The first half was a bit tough on the Spartans, falling behind App double digits and being pushed around inside by the Mountaineers' beast of a center, Butts (12 year old humor not lost on me). Both bands were holding their own, though I'll confess it's easy for me to be stagnant on the Bands of Sparta since I hear them at home. App State did bring an advantage in the horn swing department, but their tunes seemed all built for short timeouts, often leaving them space before play resumed.

The Spartans rallied in the second half, and ultimately won going away, 65-55, advancing into the semifinal round. I did a bit of walking around on the concourse following our game, running into some fellow UNCG employees, who were headed to a nearby postgame social. They invited me along, but I had dedicated my day to basketball and pep bands. I've got no regrets in doing that, but again, given the city of Asheville, I wish I would have built a little time in to just enjoy that.

For the games that follow, I admittedly had more of an interest in the bands than the basketball. As such, I moved around and got close to each band (I didn't do this during the Spartans' game, so my apologies to App fans looking for their band). The second game of our session was Western Carolina vs. Wofford. Western's band was probably my favorite of the day, and that probably makes sense, as their cut from the cloth of a Sudler Trophy-winning band. Western's contribution to halftime was their indoor drumline, Purple Thunder Productions. This was a welcome treat, and they were well-received by the folks assembled. There was a bit of a clash of styles between Wofford and Western; Wofford, with a bass, tuba, and bari sax driven low end came off more as a jazz combo with a horn section, which Western favored a brass-heavy sound. It's also worth noting that in each game, the bands were not on equal footing. The designated home band was in the corner on one end of the court, while the visiting band was along the endline on the opposite side.

Western's win over Wofford ended the first session, but being there only for Saturday's games, I bought tickets to both sessions. It was my intent to head back to the car between sessions to charge my phone (the Droid battery life struggle is REAL) and when making my exit I realized that the arena could re-scan tickets for re-entry. Having been used to no re-entry policies, this was a new one on me, but a welcome bit of information I tucked away for the second session.

Headed back to the arena, Davidson-Furman was on deck next. My big takeaway from this game was that it featured the least horn swing from the two bands. Davidson went with the common rugby-striped shirt as their pep band attire, and in their colors of red and white, they resembled Waldo. Davidson was one of the ensemble whose director also played an instrument, a red trombone in his case. One of Furman's conductors was a woman, and it only just then dawned on me that I don't see that a whole ton.

I cut out from this game, an eventual Davidson victory, a little bit early to take advantage of the scan-out policy. I headed down the street to a crepe place and enjoyed a meatball crepe (don't knock it till you've tried it) and a bit of the Duke-Carolina game before heading back in for the nightcap, Elon vs. Georgia Southern.

If I recall correctly, GSU was the one band that didn't use electronics at all. Their brass sound was huge, easily the biggest low end wih five sousaphones. Elon, was notable in that I believe they were the only tuba section (of one) to opt for a contra instead of sousaphones. That said, I only made it just past halftime on this one before hitting the old dusty trail and taking the 3 hour return trip I had ahead of me.

I've got the photos and videos from my day up on the 80 Minutes Google+ page here.

Having wrapped up this trip, I enjoyed being there for the Spartans, but enjoyed just as much being there for the rest of the basketball and pep band action. With that in mind, while I may consider following UNCG up the hill again next year, I'm considering instead taking the trip--only slightly longer at 3 1/2 hours--up to Richmond for the CAA tournament. There's a touch of local interest in that they've got east coast based teams, including my home state Delaware Blue Hens and Baltimore crosstown school Towson, but more importantly, they take pep bands seriously up there, so much so that they host the Breakfast with the Bands Pep Band Jam each year. That's a conference tournament I can get behind.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

It's a Yes for Wes

Press conference welcoming Coach Wes Miller
Yesterday afternoon, UNCG held a press conference announcing Wes Miller as the new head coach for men's basketball. Miller had served as the program's interim head coach since December, and recently finished the season in the semifinals of the Southern Conference Tournament. After a considerable turnaround that restored honor to the UNCG program (I'm only half exaggerating and Coach of the Year recognition in the SoCon, Miller was announced as the coach, fittingly at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex, where the Spartans play their home games. Many Spartan fans attended, but perhaps the most notable figure in attendance was UNC coach Roy Williams, who coached Miller during his playing days.

Congrats, Wes. From everything I see, this seems to be an outstanding hire. A friend of mine thinks that we may in the future be speaking of him in "we knew him when..." terms. Regardless, as is always the case in coaching, I'm sure there's a thin line between "great hire!" and "that bastard..."

Reunited-does it feel so good?

Was this really what you came up with, Temple?
Welcome (back) to the Big East, Temple.

Back in 2004, the Big East and Temple broke up, or to put it more accurately, the Big East dumped Temple for low attendance. Now, the Big East finds itself in dire straits at the risk of only having seven football members for the 2012 season after WVU's departure. Guess who's on the phone to their ex?

Temple would have been well within their rights to tell the Big East to kick rocks, but the lure of the likely-soon-to-be-non-existent AQ was too much to resist. Temple football will bolt the MAC immediately, heading to the Big East in time for the 2012 season.

On the selfish-o-meter, I ain't mad. I've already got plenty of reason to be in the Philly area. So while you wouldn't be anyway for other reasons, don't be surprised if you should find me in Lincoln Financial Field rooting for a team in green.

For the Big East, in addition to a continued stay of execution, Temple brings access into the Philly market (you'll note I didn't say they bring the Philly market) during football season, another large, eastern metro area (lest the Big or East be eschewed), and a football program that has woken up considerably since the 2004 departure. Temple hoops will find a natural rival in Villanova, and for the year or two that they coexist, Temple and Pitt football can battle for the Keystone State. The MAC, meanwhile, will quickly reload with their planned addition of UMass.

There's a press conference scheduled for tonight at 5:30. I first thought it was an odd time, until I realized exactly what they were doing: Getting out of the way of the Big East basketball tournament.

All Champions Conference

I've posted before about how Hopkins to the ACC as a lacrosse-only member could be an interesting power play that no one is thinking of. It has remained on my mind for a bit, and this weekend, watching future conference game UVA-Syracuse, I continued to think about just how much sense it could make.

First of all, I know that the only thing that would lead either the ACC or Hopkins to even consider this would be money. To oversimplify things, the addition would have to be more than six times more lucrative than Hopkins' solo TV deal, or, for the ACC, add more than 1/5 the total value of the league with Duke, UNC, UVA, UMCP, and Syracuse. This doesn't get into anything more complicated or nuanced about the way the league splits revenue, but you get the picture. But with the impending addition of Syracuse and hypothetical addition Hopkins, the ACC in lacrosse would likely become the single most dominant conference in any collegiate sport.

Some may argue that ACC lacrosse is already that, and poised to solidify that position with the addition of Syracuse. But four teams do not a conference make, even if they try to justify it by holding the tournament of redundancy tournament each season, and even at five teams they fall short of the minimum to earn the AQ that has been unnecessary for the teams assembled. But at six members, there would be no question to their conference status.

While there would be no need for any sort of divisional structure in a six team conference, things do put themselves into neat little packages. The six teams consist of three rivalry pairs: Carolina-Duke. College Park-Hopkins. UVA-Syracuse. Each pairing is public vs. private, and save for UVA-Syracuse, driven by geographic proximity.Rivalries extend beyond that as well. Hopkins and Syracuse are the two programs with the most titles, and until the advent of Big East lacrosse a couple years ago, were both high-powered independents. Hopkins already regularly schedules UVA and has had tilts with Duke and Carolina as well. And based upon basketball success, Syracuse has oft-unrequited natural rivalries with Duke and Carolina that will likely come to a head with conference membership. Syracuse will also carry the banner of upstate NY lacrosse into Maryland when facing the Jays and Terps.

But the most key piece of this partnership is the level of competition, and this would be the reason it could prove lucrative for all parties involved. ESPN has already shown that they value the Hopkins program with an exclusive TV deal with ESPNU. They also televise Syracuse-UVA on ESPN proper while most lacrosse is relegated to ESPNU or ESPN3. The conference games you'd add, plus conceivably a tournament for the ages--a four team tournament prestigious enough to leave out two of the league's powerhouses--would make ACC lacrosse quite attractive. And, of course, there's the NCAA tournament, which routinely outpaces nearly every other NCAA tournament. If you consider that this league would likely occupy six of the 16 spots in the tournament and has always to this point been represented (often twice) in the championship game, I think both parties stand to gain from the association. In a landscape where ACC football has seen better days, the conference may very well be able to parlay lacrosse into an additional revenue sport.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tonight We Dine on Turtle Soup

Perhaps two of the sports victories that feel the best are a win over a big rival and a "reach" win over a team you have no business beating. There may be a bit of discrepancy as to what kind of win it is when UMBC beats College Park in men's lacrosse, but damn, it feels good!

I'm not ashamed to admit that there's a bit of little-sibling, big-sibling rivalry between UMBC and UMCP. As the state's flagship, College Park often gets the lion's share of attention, resources, and prestige. It's no secret that the Terps' athletic programs are higher profile, and in fact, in most cases, I wish for them to do well. I don't pay them much mind during football as a USF fan, but living in ACC country, I tend to pull for the Terps amongst the Tar Heel, Blue Devil, Demon Deacon, and Wolfpack supporters here in NC. Even in lacrosse, I generally want to see them do well, if only to make the victory more of an accomplishment. As it were, the Terps entered tonight's tilt ranked #4 in the country with wins over Hartford, Georgetown, and Duke before falling 8-7 to UMBC.

But why lacrosse? For one, it's the sport in which the two schools consistently play one another. UMCP is looked upon as a bit of a powerhouse in the sport. They are a perennial tournament team and have final fours and national championships to show for their effort (though it's worth noting that UMBC has a national championship more recently than College Park in men's lacrosse). What's more, lacrosse has a special place in the fabric of the state of Maryland. It is one of a handful of hotbed areas in the sport, and in fact, lacrosse is the state team sport. So beating the Terps is quite literally beating them at their own game--beating the state flagship in the state sport. Being able to say we took four of the last six from them comes with a certain degree of bragging rights.

Monday, March 5, 2012

So SoCon

I'll give you all a full update soon, but I at least wanted to share the pictures and videos from this past weekend's SoCon tournament quarterfinals in Asheville, NC.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

It's Tourney Time!

It's tourney time, but surprisingly enough, I'm leaving Tournament Town.

Yes, Tournament Town, AKA my current home of Greensboro, NC. It's a fitting moniker with which the city affixed itself because of its regular hosting of tournaments, most notably college basketball. If I recall correctly, it began in 2006 where in three consecutive weekends, the Greensboro Coliseum played host to the ACC women's tournament, the ACC men's tournament, and the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament. But this time, I'm actually headed up to the mountains for the Southern Conference tournament in Asheville.

I'll admit, sometime early this basketball season, I all but laughed when I was at a UNCG game and I was next to a table handing out literature for the SoCon tourney in Asheville. Times were different then. UNCG was a conference cellar dweller coming off of three consecutive single digit win seasons. The conference tournament wasn't a time to celebrate, unless the celebration was that another season was poised to be mercifully curtailed. Things have since changed, and UNCG is entering the conference tournament as the 1 seed in the North with a first round bye.

At some point, a trip to Asheville started to seem plausible, even a good idea. A few things started to make it a little more concrete. The Spartans were winning. It seemed my wife and daughter were going to be out of town that weekend. My buddy Brian had moved east and would also be within reachable distance of the tournament. So now, while the Spartans ended their season dropping three straight, my wife and daughter made their trip last weekend, and Brian's unavailable this weekend, I'm still committed to heading up to Asheville for SoCon.

It's been some time since I've been at a smaller conference tournament. I've attended ACC men's and women's the past couple of years but it's been since 2003 that I've been at a smaller conference tournament, and that was the Northeast Conference women (our men didn't make it that year) from behind the drumset as a member of the Down and Dirty Dawg Band at UMBC. Now that I'm making the trip, I'm doing it just as much (if not more) for the bands than for the basketball. I'm only going up for Saturday's quarterfinal matchups, but I'll take in both sessions, catching four games and hopefully eight pep bands. Keep an eye on Twitter (@80mins) for the updates on how the SoCon gets down!
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