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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Turning the Page to a Playoff

Without this,  it's just not college football.
The commissioners  proposed it. The presidents accepted it. We are headed to a playoff in major college football.

There's been much rejoicing in the college football community, and while there remains criticism, many believe this is a step in the right direction, and a welcome replacement for the BCS. But with increased postseason demands, what will it mean for schools who may now be looking to send their marching bands to three postseason games?

Let's first take a look at what got us here. The winds of conference realignment that have been sweeping through for a couple of years now and setting the stage for the playoff, arguably one of the largest changes college football has ever seen. This particular round led to extraregional associations like Colorado and Utah to the Pac-12, Texas A&M and Mizzou to the SEC, and West Virginia to the Big XII. While each of these moves was made for financial windfall, they also put additional strain on travel for the football teams, basketball and non-revenue sports, and, of course, the marching band and spirit units. While several Big XII brethren were within relative reach, I don't see the Marching Mizzou making the trip from Columbia to Columbia for a division game against South Carolina, nor do I expect  the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band to march in between the hedges in Athens. The length of the trips and number of moving parts make it unlikely, even for these two schools entering the SEC, a conference historically strong in band travel.

With the addition of the playoff, teams, fans, bands, and other moving parts may find themselves called upon to travel to a conference championship game, a semifinal matchup, and a national championship game in relatively short succession. With all that travel, would a team consider not bringing the band to one of their stops? After all, it frees up a couple of hundred seats and saves the athletic department untold thousands. You'd think that with the increase in revenue that will no doubt come out of the playoff, there's be no reason, no excuse, so here's hoping.

Beyond that piece, something also worth considering: The national championship game will be put out to bid, much as the Super Bowl is. As cities prepare their bids, what all will the festivities entail? Moreso than simply the stadium and its amenities, I not so humbly think that any proposal worth its salt would include a parade.

I'm not suggesting for a second that whatever Johnny-come-lately comes into being in early 2015 would rival the Rose Parade or any others with considerable tradition. I actually make the suggestion for a more practical, less band-nerd-centric reason. Consider that as the national championship pushes necessarily later and later into January, it's sharing more time with the NFL playoffs. As rabid as college football fans are, the fact of the matter remains that college football still plays second fiddle to the NFL in terms of national draw. So what should college football's championship do? Remind us all why it is what it is and what makes it unique, special, and beloved. While the game takes place on a Monday night, this gives any given host city the opportunity and excuse to reach into the weekend and truly embrace the whole weekend. Timed right, a televised parade could not only display the host city, but also precede Saturday NFL games, keeping the college landscape in the forefront even as eyes are on the professional league. In fact, the right media partnership (CBS or Fox) or city partnership (someone likely to be in the playoffs--sorry, Dallas) could even lead to increased synergy, either including the parade in the pregame or even having the home football team prominently featured.

The national championship festivities should be a culmination and celebration of all that is college football, and that includes marching bands. Without them, all you have is a minor league Super Bowl.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Get your corps bets in now!

Drum Corps International's summer marching season started this past weekend, and this first weekend's contests are behind us, but for the one time this season, scores are being held to be revealed tonight as DCI hits cinemas across the nation for the DCI Tour Premiere which has become the Daytona 500 of drum corps. With the additonal time, get your bets in now!

I'm kidding, of course. Injecting gambling in to drum corps or any activity with a standardized-but-still-subjective judging system is just asking for corruption. Add to that the fact that the wage scale for the performers tops (or bottoms) out somewhere in the negative thousands of dollars, I'm sure even the most principled of marching members could be tempted. Still, if betting were to become commonplace, I could see it working in a couple of different ways:

Horse style - this makes sense because any given competition features multiple competitors. You could head to the window for a Crown-Cavies-Cadets trifecta, or bet the odds on any given corps.

Point spread - this past year's World Championship saw The Cadets take home the gold with a score of 98.35 over the Blue Devils at 97.8, meaning that BD just missed covering a fictional spread of +0.5.

Over/Under - because corps get better as the season progresses, this one could be a bit of fun. For example, an over/under of 80 for the top of the order could garner some action in late June, as Crown and the Cadets were just crossing this threshold around this time.

Happy DCI season--don't bet it all in one place!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Root Root Root for the Home Corps

What would this map look like for drum corps?
Drum corps season is upon us. In less than 24 hours, DCI fans will pack stadiums and root for the home team. That is, if the home team will be playing a show near them.

In the world of sports, the team you choose to support is as much about civic pride as anything else. While teams have nicknames like Red Sox, Devils, and Panthers, it's often the Boston, New Jersey, or Carolina part that resonates with fans, and while there are extraregional fans, one's rooting interest often boils down to where someone, or perhaps their family, hails from. In drum corps, geography falls much farther down the list. People tend to root for a corps because they're alumni, their friend/relative marches or marched there, or they're a fan of their repertoire or style of play. There's some geographic affinity, but not a ton. Why is that?

For starters, a corps may be headquartered in a particular location, but after camps, they spend all summer leaving. This is in sharp contrast to a sports team which will play half of its games at home. There's no picking up season tickets to the local drum corps. Some degree of regional affinity may exist from those marching in the corps, but all of the top corps draw from such a national base these days that that's all but moot. If you're lucky there'll be a home show or two that local fans can attend--as a Carolina Crown fan in North Carolina, they're at three shows here in NC, SC, and nearby VA--but not every corps gets that chance.

To what degree do corps and their home regions embrace one another? Just 6 of the 23 World Class corps bear the name of their city or geographic region in their corps name: Boston Crusaders, Carolina Crown, Jersey Surf, Madison Scouts, Santa Clara Vanguard, and Spirit of Atlanta. The Glassmen of Toledo allude to their Glass City roots, and the Cadets have included both Garfield and Bergen County in their name in the past, but that's it. Anyone less than fully invested couldn't tell you where Phantom Regiment or the Blue Devils are from.

Due to the smaller profile of drum corps as they relate to sports teams, it doesn't take a major metropolitan area to support a corps (when there is indeed municipal support). Rockford, Illinois does claim Phantom Regiment on their city sign, boasting of their most recent championship, but the city is a speck in comparison to some of the larger areas that host corps. To what degree do Charlotte, Philadelphia, Seattle, Boston, the Bay Area, Atlanta, or Northeast Ohio claim or even acknowledge the corps that are based in their environs? I took a look at which cities had DCI championships to go with their major sports championships, but again, to what degree do they claim these? I've seen Charlotte represent the Panthers, the Bobcats, even the Hounds of Major League Lacrosse and Minor League Baseball's Knights, but I must say, the Carolina Crown gear I see when I'm down there is lacking.

Having moved beyond neighborhood corps being commonplace, each corps enjoys more of a national following, but to what degree is this at the expense of a local fanbase? I can't answer that, but if you don't already have a corps you claim, try latching on to the home team.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Oh. Of course.

I questioned not long ago which of the regional/specialty/conference TV networks would be the first to incorporate regular marching content. The more I read about the development of Project X--er, the SEC Network, the more I think it's abundantly clear that they'll hop on this and run with it.

Why? It's simple--SEC marching is related to SEC football, and that network will put forth any and everything that has to do with SEC football, from soup to nuts. And people will watch, even if they don't give a damn about marching bands, because it's the SEC.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

College Football Playoff: Who's In?

As details are being ironed out on what will soon be major college football's postseason, one issue that seems most pressing is who will be to participate in the presumed four team playoff. There are currently two primary schools of thought on the matter: One being the top for teams, and the second being conference champions only (choice 2b allows for some form of wild card to fill the fourth spot). Both proposals have merit: Those who back the top four teams need look no further than reigning champion Alabama, who didn't win the SEC West, much less the conference, and yet proved themselves college football's best team the only way we currently know how. Proponents of the conference champions model speak to the importance of winning one's conference, and point out that the sanctity of the regular season could be tainted if a playoff-assured team decided to rest its starters. Similarly, both viewpoints are supported by conferences' self interest. The top four proposal is backed by those who think they can double or even triple their access, while the champions model is supported by conferences seeking to limit overaccess, as well as those least likely to put a team in the top four.

My proposal is a potential compromise. Non-conference champions would have access to the playoff if and only if their conference was already represented by its champion. Let's take a look back at the 2011 season. Alabama would remain in the picture, as the SEC champion, LSU, also earned its way in. But the caveat from last year that far fewer folks mention is where Stanford and Oregon sat at year's end. In a top four model, Stanford, who ended the regular season at #4, would claim the fourth spot, while Oregon, who beat the Cardinal soundly at their place, won the Pac-12 North over Stanford, and ultimately took home the Pac-12 title, would have been left out. In my proposal, Oregon gets the nod over Stanford.

(Independents? Never fear. We're calling you a conference of one. Make your way into the top four and you're in for sure; if you sat between Stanford and Oregon in last year's model, you would've gotten the call up over the Ducks)

We know the conferences will be taking quite a few things to the mat in the next round of the-meetings-soon-to-be-formerly-known-as-BCS, and this one could save them a bit of time, by rewarding conference champions wile still allowing those who excel to be rewarded.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Winds of Change

On a recent episode of Marching Roundtable, the hosts spoke with George Hopkins, director of the Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps, about a controversial idea that would change the very core of drum corps as we know it: Adding woodwinds.

I'm going to lay all of my biases on the table up front: I tend to be a relatively staunch traditionalist when it comes to drum corps, despite not having the longevity as a fan to hearken back to said traditions. When electronics entered the activity, I remained pro acoustic instrumentation. I would welcome a return to high knees, marching timpani, and G bugles. As such, it should stand to no surprise that I'm no fan of the concept of woodwinds in drum corps. That said, it was my intent to listen to Hopkins' proposal with as open a mind as possible.

I'll also note that Hopkins has at times been vilified as everything that is wrong with the activity currently, largely unfairly, because he is willing to think outside the box and challenge the status quo. I'll admit I have at times been the voice of the vilification, but still it was not my intent to devalue the potential message because of its messenger.

I will start out by saying that I was pleasantly surprised, through the course of the podcast to find that Hopkins and I agreed on far more than we disagreed. He brought up many salient points about where the activity stands now and the need for change to the status quo and some of the economics driving that need. It is instantly evident that he is truly passionate about drum corps and wants to ensure its survival, and he believes that the addition of woodwinds is a change that would make the product more viable. Hopkins proposes to add 56 (a busload) woodwind players to corps, which would increase corps limits to 206. He also notes that 63% of band members are woodwinds and that we exclude a significant portion of the population by limiting the activity to brass, percussion, and guard.

A key part of Hopkins' argument is that drum corps needs to be intimately tied in with music education and showing that we truly care, not just say we care, about music education, is key to drum corps' sustenance. He also pointed out that drum corps are non-profits not because they are drum corps, but because they help kids. Host Tim Hinton suggested that it was possible to care without marching woodwinds; one area where I rolled my eyes a bit was "what would you tell that 63% of students in the band why they can't be in your organization?" I think that framing this as an access issue rings hollow, especially when there are some pretty solid access issues--financial being among the largest--in drum corps. To answer the question of what I would tell the students, I'd say pick up a horn, drum, flag, rifle, or sabre and seek to join an organization, or enjoy from the stands. I fall short of believing participation in a top-flight World Class corps is a right; many lack the skill or resources to participate on that level. He did point out that there aren't any opportunities for woodwind players to participate at such a high level. He's right, of course, but that doesn't make the case that drum corps needs to become that venue. I would love to see professional/high level marching bands come into being, but not at the expense of drum corps. It's also worth noting that an excellent opportunity for "going pro" on such instruments exists in the armed forces.

The 63% of musicians who are woodwinds players was also used to point out that this is a potential growth area, but that suggests that woodwinds players are not currently attending shows. It has been my experience that when high school bands attend drum corps shows, they come as a band, not simply as brass, percussion, and guard units. The appropriate analogy, then, isn't that woodwind players will now be at shows, but that drum corps, which will become marching band as most know it, will begin to draw crowds like marching band as we know it. Last I checked, this is comparable to, if not less than, what drum corps currently draws. What's further, Hopkins acknowledges that we will alienate a portion of drum corps fans by making such a bold change. Are we sure that that which we will attract is worth that which we will lose?

While examining the multiculturalism aspect, Hopkins went into the fact that drum corps aren't necessarily playing the music that folks want to hear, citing specifically hip hop before drawing references to music that he played when marching. Again, this isn't a flaw with the absence of woodwinds, but with the manner in which cprps program shows. I believe that the marching arts should borrow from one another, and DCI would do well to take a page from HBCU and other college marching bands in this respect. After all, music is to thrill an audience.

The next thing I say isn't going to make a whole lot of drum corps fans happy, but deep down, each one knows it to be true. A drum corps is a marching band. Sure we don't call it that. It's too common. A drum corps is a highly specialized marching unit made of brass, percussion, guard, unicorns, and lightning! No, while the makeup is different than what we consider typical, and at least that which we know as DCI considers itself "Marching Music's Major League," the fact remains that a drum corps is a type of marching band. I say that to say this: Hopkins postulates that drum corps are missing out on potential sponsorship opportunities because while "marching band" is a common concept to which potential benefactors can related, "drum corps" doesn't have the same name recognition. There is nothing preventing someone making a presentation, elevator speech, or otherwise selling the drum corps experience from using the term "marching band". It isn't a lie, or even misleading. It's calling a spade a spade.

Finally, and perhaps this should have been first: Making drum corps and scholastic bands homogenous would lead to the extinction of drum corps as we know it. This may sound like hyperbole, but consider that as it stands, drum corps is a unique art form. To make it identical to a related form would mean the death or near death of the construct of drum and bugle corps. I, frankly, am not ready to see that happen.

So while I enjoyed the podcast and appreciated George Hopkins bringing forth a plan that he knows is perhaps the hottest button in drum corps, I didn't feel he made a compelling case for why woodwinds must be added. What do you think?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

East Coast Irrelevance

If we're not careful, big-time college football could go extinct from the eastern seaboard.

Already, as the landscape changes and we start to look ahead to a college football playoff, the consolidation of power in the conferences-formerly-known-as-BCS-AQs not named the ACC and Big East seems to grow more evident. The Rose Bowl will continue to pair the Pac-12 and the Big Ten, and the SEC and Big XII have agreed to send their champions (or another, should their champion find themselves in the playoff, which I'd imagine they often will) to the new concept Champions Bowl. While neither of these bowls will necessarily factor into a playoff scenario, the message is clear: This is the company we choose to keep, and sorry, east coast conferences, it isn't you.

What's an east coast school to do?

Well, moving west clearly isn't an option. But while you can't change your location, you can change your neighbors. West Virginia did so by making the move to the Big XII. We've already heard the scuttlebutt about Florida State potentially following suit and taking Clemson or Miami with them. Some seem to believe that should this happen, the ACC will get all apocalyptic and schools like Virginia Tech and NC State will bolt for the SEC, if they'll have them. In fact, one could look back and consider Penn State forward-thinking by aligning themselves with the then-solely midwestern Big Ten instead of an eastern conference. Even Syracuse and Pittsburgh headed for a southern exposure--remember that the ACC was nearly as southeastern in geography as the SEC before adding Boston College and those two--but may have simply launched themselves from one eastern also-ran conference into another.

We already know that college football in the northeast isn't the driver that it is in other parts of the country. What other region could host a debate advocating the banning of college football and rule in favor of the affirmative? With the entire eastern seaboard in mind, while there may be regions of the country that could successfully host two major conferences, the east coast is not one of them, locking the ACC and Big East in a blood feud for scarce resources that could leave both irrelevant. Any team getting a serious look from the SEC, Big XII, or Big Ten (I feel confident that the region is safe from Pac-12 raiding for now) will take it seriously and most likely jump. With the future of the east coast conferences as the will of the others, they will sit uneasily in a Cuban Missile Crisis staredown, knowing that if they blink, we could be talking about the Atlantic East in the same breath as the MAC, Sun Belt, and Conference USA.

It's more than just the football, though. Consider this: With the departure of West Virginia for the Big XII, there are no Sudler Trophy winners in either the ACC or the Big East. College marching band's highest honor has completely left the east coast conferences, and it's not as though it was that strong before. Someone's still winning in the east, but it's not at the FBS level. The four non-FBS winners all sit squarely in ACC territory: FAMU in Florida, James Madison in Virginia, Western Carolina in North Carolina, and UMass, which has since made the leap to FBS, in Massachusetts. The two other Sudlers found in east coast states belong to the Big Ten and SEC, in Penn State and Georgia, respectively. The remaining trophies reside in those two conferences, the Big XII, the Pac-12, and most recently, with Notre Dame. Sound familiar?

We've all heard of the east coast bias in media. We may find ourselves coming to the point in college football where there's virtually no east coast towards which to be biased.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Band from Television

College and other sports networks are popping up almost as quickly as teams change conferences. The Big Ten Network turns five this summer. Longhorn Network has been around (somewhere) for a year. The Pac-12 and Big XII have apparently given networks some thought. The SEC is deep in the laboratory cooking up Project X.

My belief--one part prediction and two parts hope: It's only a matter of time until someone starts producing marching band-related content.

The narrower your focus, the more you need to be creative with content. ESPN, for example, has the entire sports spectrum at their finger tips, while ESPNU is confined to college. Conference-specific networks narrow the lens even further, and anyone looking to go the Longhorn Network route and limit their scope to a single institution absolutely needs to fill space (especially when you can't show high school football). If sports is your focus, why wouldn't you look to an athletics-adjacent like marching band, especially if your focus area features a band or bands of significant excellence?

I asked this of the Big Ten Network (or their social media coordinator) on Twitter. The Big Ten is, after all, at the top of the mountain as far as marching/athletic music. Ten of its twelve bands have won the Sudler Trophy, and even typically band-resistant media outlets are quick to show the Script Ohio.

The answer that they gave was that it has been talked about for a long time, but commercial rights to the band's music remain an obstacle. First of all, i appreciate them "taking my call," as it were and actually explaining the situation, including an obstacle I'll admit I didn't even consider while wondering why this wasn't already happening.

Still, the more I've thought about it, the more I realized that that shouldn't have to be the obstacle they make it out to be. A band-focused show could be done justice using little to no proprietary music. This could work in two ways: You could tell the story of the band without even delving too heavy into performance itself--I've played with enough organizations to vouch for the fact that there's plenty of content there. ESPNU has done this with "The Battle" which has focused on HBCU marching bands; season one highlighted the FAMU/Bethune-Cookman rivalry, while season two focused on Grambling. Even a "making of" sort of show that follows them through band camp would achieve this goal. Secondly, you could focus on the part that is probably of most interest to the sports fans otherwise tuning into the network: The pregame show. While halftime shows may veer from a strictly football/institution-centric script, pregame is all about school spirit. The added bonus is that typically most, if not all, fanfares, cadences, and songs used here are property of the respective schools, making commercial rights far less an issue.

Someone's going to hop on this, and whether it's the Big Ten, SEC, Longhorn, or some other network, it wouldn't surprise me if the others follow suit to keep up with the Joneses.

No argument here.
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