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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Before the Clock Starts: Big East

Only five Saturdays remain before the clock starts. In these final weeks, we'll take a look at what six conference champions do before the clock starts: The pregame show. Designed to set the tone for the football game to follow, pregame shows are, by design, high-energy, crowd-focused, and school-centric.

Week 2: The Big East's BCS representative is currently in the Big 12, so we'll look at another conference champion: Co-champion Cincinnati's Pride of Cincinnati.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Let the Games Begin!

Nowhere is there a better marriage of sport and pageantry than the opening ceremony at the Olympics. But with all due respect to the UK (and full disclosure: I currently have the 2012 opening ceremony paused as my wife puts my daughter to bed) the opening ceremony from Atlanta in 1996 speaks directly to the 80 Minutes ideal. They've disable embedding, but the link is worth checking out:

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bolt from the Blue

Despite how big a piece of my college career it became, I didn't select my undergraduate institution based on the athletic program or athletic bands.

One making such a decision recently--pre-November, that is--would have done well to select Penn State. The athletic department is as high-profile as any, and each fall Saturday, the Sudler Trophy-winning marching band performs to a stadium that seats better than 106,000. Add to that playing in the strongest marching conference in major college football and a likely bowl trip each year, and the opportunity to be part of Penn State's Blue Band holds quite the lure.

NCAA sanctions following the Jerry Sandusky scandal have significantly tarnished the luster of Penn State athletics and its related programs. The easing of the penalty for transferring football players already has sharks circling in the water. But what of those who selected or are considering Penn State for its marching band? While the football program was spared the death penalty, what was a promising outlook will now surely include no bowl games and likely no away game travel, given the massive monetary hit the athletics budget will take. Add to that the university's scarred reputation and its most high profile program operating at bare bones, and the thrill may be gone from participation in the Blue Band. I wish them the best going forth, but with the limitations placed upon it, it's going to be difficult to retain its members and even tougher to recruit.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Before the Clock Starts: Atlantic Coast Conference

Only six Saturdays remain before the clock starts. In those six weeks, we'll take a look at what six conference champions do before the clock starts: The pregame show. Designed to set the tone for the football game to follow, pregame shows are, by design, high-energy, crowd-focused, and school-centric.

Week 1: Up first: 2011 ACC champion Clemson's Band that Shakes the Southland.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Step Into a New Conference

As July began, many of the realignments we knew were coming became official. West Virginia and TCU are now members of the Big 12. Missouri and Texas A&M are now in the SEC. And Temple has come back to the Big East. As the football teams prepare for new opponents, new trips and potentially new rivalries, what will realignment mean for the marching bands involved?

Both Temple and TCU are realizing an opportunity to step up to the big time. For the two years that such a designation continues to exist, both have moved into auto-qualifying conferences, putting a BCS bowl game within reach and increasing the level of competition. Both have also made geographically advantageous moves: Temple moves from the primarily midwestern MAC to a more eastern-centric (at least for now) Big East, while TCU leaves the Mountain West for a Big 12 in which it has three opponents in its home state and two more a state away in Oklahoma. With both schools moving from non-AQ conferences, I didn't capture either of their travel schedules from last year in the Band on the Road Project. At present, there isn't much to report from either school; TCU doesn't yet have its schedule up and Temple lists only its home games.

Each of the other schools has a bit more of a geographical hurdle to overcome. West Virginia is now a flight away from all of its conferencemates, and both Texas A&M and Mizzou are removed from the southeastern core of the SEC. Currently, the Pride of West Virginia's only confirmed travel game is a date with James Madison in FedEx Field outside of Washington, DC, though their calendar currently calls for holds of October 6 and 13, the date of away games at Texas and Texas Tech, respectively. Texas A&M's Fightin' Texas Aggie Band will have some presence at four of the Aggies' six away games, bringing a full band to SMU and Ole Miss and a pep band comprised of upperclassmen to Louisiana Tech and Alabama.

With the recent moves, I'm most impressed by the Marching Mizzou. While their website does not clearly delineate travel information yet, it does contain the following gem: "The full band typically travels to one away game each season. As Mizzou enters the SEC, we will additionally send a smaller pep band to each conference game to support the Tigers." That's commitment, especially with Mizzou playing in the SEC East. The language leads me to believe that they didn't do that last year in the Big 12--last year, they had no info on their website, so I can't confirm/deny via Band on the Road--so it's a clear decision based on the move to the SEC. Maybe it's the increased caliber of competition, maybe they looked across the conference and saw that the SEC is far and away the best as sending some band representation to away games, or maybe they realized that increased SEC revenue afforded them this opportunity. Whichever it is--possibly a combination of all three--Mizzou will be making its move in style.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Penn Statement

The Freeh Report came to light on Thursday, July 12, and with it, all doubt was removed. The investigation found conclusively that Joe Paterno, as well as Penn State's president, athletic director, and senior VP of finance were not simply negligent, but actively complicit in the cover-up that allowed Jerry Sandusky continued access to the boys that he raped.

I say this in no uncertain terms: The Penn State football program was a conduit for the rape and sexual abuse of children.

The question that remains is this: Will the NCAA see fit to sanction the Penn State football program, and if so, will that mean the death penalty?

I'm certain that I believe that Penn State should not compete in football this year, and perhaps for a few years. That said, I am unsure of who would or should mete out this punishment. In an ideal world, Penn State would pull the plug on their own season, but somehow, I don't see that happening. Should the NCAA step in and sanction Penn State? I've heard reasoned arguments for this both ways. On the one hand, as horrific as the violations of laws and human decency were here, it's difficult to pinpoint, save for the all-encompassing "lack of institutional control," where an NCAA violation occurred. On the other, the NCAA can set precedent here: It is clear that the coverup of Sandusky's crimes was done to protect the football program. By putting the same football program on hiatus, the NCAA would make it clear that anyone who would even think of harboring a criminal in the same manner puts the program in jeopardy.

If you can believe it, despite the general tilt here, it was my intent not to rehash the FAMU comparisons there make sense here. A conversation earlier today (interestingly enough, started by Luther "Uncle Luke" Campbell) pointed out that like the Marching 100--more, actually--Penn State football has a significant financial impact not only on the athletic program and the university, but on the entire community. The suspension of the program, much like the suspension of the Marching 100, would cause significant strain on many. None of this should matter. As I said when advocating for the suspension of the 100, Penn State football cannot be too big to fail.

I remain on the fence as to whether or not the NCAA should sanction Penn State. But if the university truly wants to set itself on the path to restoring its honor, the NCAA shouldn't have to.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Callout

There are fewer band battle traditions that are more "fightin' words" than the callout. In that vein and tradition, Huffington Post, I'm calling you out.

Writer Anna Susman recently penned a piece proclaiming the Best College Marching Bands of 2011-2012. This was shared with me once (thanks, Mom!) and if history is any guide, will be a few more times. What can I say, people know I like this sort of thing. The article/slideshow recognizes (in the order presented, which is stated as "no particular order"):

  • University of Texas' Longhorn Band
  • USC's Spirit of Troy
  • LSU's Golden Band from Tigerland
  • Texas A&M's Fightin' Texas Aggie Band
  • Ohio State's TBDBITL
  • The Michigan Marching Band
  • FAMU's Marching 100
  • Tennessee's Pride of the Southland
  • Notre Dame's Band of the Fighting Irish
  • WVU's Pride of West Virginia
Let me first note that I'm not here to rail against any inclusion or exclusion on the list. In fact, I find it pretty sound, a veritable Who's Who of college marching's heavy hitters. And that is precisely my problem.

This list claims to celebrate the 2011 marching season, but the same list could have been written in 2010. Or 2001. Or 1998. The author provides no evidence of these bands' prestige in the season at hand. No specific touchstones or experiences. No indication that she even saw any of these bands, live or on TV, save for the video clips included from this season. In fact, no mention is made of anything that took place this year for any of these bands except for the 2011 Sudler Trophy awarded to Notre Dame and hazing at FAMU. 

Of the ten bands listed, eight have won the Sudler Trophy; of the two that haven't, USC and Tennessee, the former is attached to a perennial college football powerhouse; the latter plays each week in the third largest stadium in the country and is attached to a team with a strong fanbase. Both make their presence known during Saturday broadcasts with incessant repetition of a common theme; The Spirit of Troy's Tribute to Troy and The Pride of the Southland's Rocky Top. 

Elsewhere on the list, FAMU remains the token HBCU selection, a lazy meme I've seen on other such lists and a formula from which the author chose not to stray despite the Marching 100 killing a member this past season and being suspended for the remainder of this past season and all of 2013. If you're going to tokenize, at least go the route of a band that played the entire season.

It wouldn't have been hard to make this list 2011-specific. Mention the Ohio University Marching 110, whose playing of Party Rock Anthem went viral this past season. Mention Alabama's Million Dollar Band, who Rammer Jammered the nation after their football team succeeded on college football's biggest stage. Without even changing the lineup, it's not hard to note that the Spirit of Troy would have been present at the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game, were it not for its football team's postseason ban. Or that Texas A&M's Fightin' Texas Aggie Band saw its last matchup for the foreseeable future with the rival Longhorn Band and will be headed into a historically strong SEC West to join four fellow Sudler Trophy winners in Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, and Auburn. Or that for the first time since 2003, The Michigan Marching Band marched out of the Big House following the annual rivalry game with Ohio State with their shakos on backwards, a tradition following a victory. 

Instead, Susman puts forth a list that has all of the timeliness of a battle rapper who shows up to freestyle with pre-written material. The list comes off lazy, unresearched, and unoriginal. I'm sorry, but when it comes to marching bands, there should be no half-stepping.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Selecting the Field

Ever since we learned that the participants in major college football's playoff would be selected by a committee--before actually--there has been discussion and debate as to who should serve. Vegas? College football wants no part of it. Media? They want no part of the process. Former coaches and commissioners? Too much bias.

I've heard a lot of ideas batted around. Here are three that I haven't yet heard elsewhere:

Drum corps/marching band judges: I'm actually only half joking with this one. While they certainly aren't intrinsically knowledgeable about college football, the transferrable skills that go into objective, unbiased evaluation over the course of a season would serve the committee well. On the recent judges' roundtable on Marching Roundtable, it was quipped that they could judge just about anything with the proper rubric. Why not put it to the test?

College football referees: This is the real life application of the suggestion above. Referees are already used to being objective and used to being hated, two skills that would serve them well on a selection committee. The additional bonus, of course, is their vast knowledge of the sport. The caveat is that right now, officials are employees of specific conferences, a setup that has never made much sense to me. Still, with the playoff two years away, spend that time centralizing a refereeing corps. After that, set up a rotation that gives each official ample viewing time in a year they are tasked to evaluate; after all, refs are out there working every weekend, and the system would need to ensure they can get a complete picture of the college football landscape.

Retired coaches: Everyone has noted the biases inherent here. Could Bobby Bowden accurately evaluate Florida State? Could Barry Switzer give Oklahoma--or for that matter, Texas--a fair shake? The conflict comes because we are used to pretending there is only one level of college football. Why not employ retired coaches from the FCS, Division II, and Division III ranks?

Utilizing coaches from these levels gives you the benefits of using coaches--intimate knowledge of the ins and outs of the game, and skills in breaking down its component parts--while drastically reducing the biases that would be present with coaches from the FBS level. Really, the primary downside here is to the coaches themselves--after a career at a lower level, they'd spend their golden years with a front row seat to how the other half lives.

Who do you want selecting college football's playoff participants?
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