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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Keep an Eye On

I figured before we start this season, I'd give both a team and a band to keep an eye on this coming season in each of the six (yes, SIX) AQ conferences.

My team to keep an eye on in the ACC is Florida State. I keep more of an eye on them than anyone else, as I tend to attend games with a friend of mine who's an alum. Of course, the fact that they're on USF's schedule this year doesn't hurt either. I'll stay in Tallahassee for the Marching Chiefs as well, who are the only college marching band in town for at least this year. I think the Chiefs may have a good shot at being the ACC's first ever Sudler Trophy winner, though who knows when that'll take place.

Big East
Excepting the ever-watchful eye I keep on my own Bulls, I'm interested to see what we can expect out of Rutgers post-Schiano. I'm hoping not much, because, well, I hate them. At halftime, I'm looking forward to conference newcomer Temple's Diamond Marching Band, who I'll get to see live in Philly this October

Big Ten
I don't know if Michigan State is pissed off, but they've got every right to be. They got passed up each of the past two years for a BCS game: In 2010, as a Big Ten co-champion, they watched the other two champions head to major bowls despite a the same record as co-champ Wisconsin and having beaten the Badgers head-to-head. In 2011, in-state rival Michigan headed to the BCS despite the Spartans winning the Legends Division and beating the Wolverines. The Ohio State Marching Band is a year behind their football counterparts--the team faced a transition from a longtime coach before the 2011 season, while the band faces that now with Dr. Woods' retirement.

Big 12
Call it nostalgia--I've certainly waxed poetic on former conferencemate West Virginia before--but I'm really interested to see how they do in a conference in which they don't even share a time zone with any of their peers. Texas Tech's Goin' Band from Raiderland will relocated in the stands in a move that will hopefully maximize their acoustics. As a band that has always come through loud and clear on TV, that's an almost frightening prospect.

OK, i'll bite and feed the USC beast, although the point I intend to make is not about their dominance, but rather their mortality. In each of the past several years, even before sanctions, they dropped a game or two they had no business losing, and I have a feeling that may be the case again this year. And while I'll readily admit I catch precious little of west coast bands, I'll be lazy and point the spotlight at the nation's most prominent scramble band at Stanford.

John L. Smith knows he has a 10 month contract, and that to me makes Arkansas both potentially exciting and potentially dangerous. I expect them to be playing YOLO ball and pulling out all the stops, especially in division matchups with Alabama and LSU. And now forming at the North end of Kyle Field, I expect for Texas A&M's Fightin' Texas Aggie Band to add significantly to an already strong SEC West, as every band not in the state of Mississippi holds a Sudler Trophy.

"Let's be honest..."

Let's be honest. That phrase is uttered just about every time a media member prepares to talk about Big East football. And let's be honest--it's not necessary. "Let's be honest" implies that everyone else is being dishonest. That everyone else has been blowing smoke up the Big East's collective hind end and you're going to be the one to give us the honest truth. But let's face it--just about every review you hear of the Big East is some variation of "That's Big LEAST, amirite? *self-satisfied chuckle*"

Perhaps one of the biggest recent blows was the conference being all but left off of conference previews on the ESPNU College Football Podcast with Ivan Maisel. Ivan later apologized and chalked it up to a timing issue on his part, but I saw that sort of treatment coming the second the week started and he announced that they'd be previewing conferences all week. Five days. Six AQ conferences. Take your guess who gets left out.

I say six AQ conferences, and while I realize that's a lame-duck designation with a playoff on the horizon, it still puts the Big East among the power conferences, even if it's as the sixth of six. And before ACC fans get all self-righteous from the #5 spot, I'll point out that the ACC lording dominion over the Big East is kind of like someone who has a crappy day at their crappy job coming home to their studio apartment and kicking the dog.

It seems that with the impending playoff, the Big East will find itself midway between the gutter and the stars. The SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12 will continue to hold all the chips, letting a few spill the direction of the ACC and Big East, who will still sit ahead of Conference USA, Sun Belt, and the like. The ACC admittedly has a leg up with its Orange Bowl tie-in still guaranteeing it access to the major bowls, something the Big East has not yet secured. There are a lot of factors at play for the conference, including a TV deal to be negotiated soon by the new leadership, changing membership for each of the next few years, and of course the performance of the teams currently in and soon to be in the conference.

That said, despite the much-ballyhooed blowing of white smoke following the announcement of the playoff, it's still two years off, and as we've seen in the past two years, it's a long time in college football years. Also two years off is the passing of the conference contract, and yet you wouldn't know it with the way the Worldwide Leader treats one of its conferences. While I know what it will mean for our coverage on the most watched sports network--look at the NHL--I actually hope the Big East severs ties and becomes a major player with a different sports network, taking its vaunted basketball with it.

I can't talk Big East without talking the reason I'm a fan of the conference: My own USF Bulls. I'm optimistic for a strong season and even contention for the conference throne, but I'm not stranger to our midseason slump and sub-.500 conference records for each of the past four years. Still, with a non-conference games interspersed with conference tilts, a veteran team, and the hope that the unfortunate bounces of last year may be reversed, I will enter this season cautiously optimistic.

Besides, it's JUST the Big East, amirite?

Entering this season, I direct you to take a look at a couple of great reads and folks who can talk Big East and USF with far more authority than I: Big East Coast Bias and Voodoo Five.

Big East football. We all we got.

Can You Feel It?

In a few short hours, college football returns.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Band on the Road 2012

It's been a year on the road--figuratively, of course--and I've got to say it's been a labor of love. Finding up-to-date schedules isn't always the easiest, and it takes a good deal of work to create the reference, but I honestly love doing it, both because it's great to have and I love seeing what trips bands are taking and which matchups I have to look forward to.

To the uninitiated: The Band on the Road Project began prior to the 2011 college football season. My intent was, and remains, to document which games college bands are traveling to. From my standpoint, it's both a personal interest and a bit of a gift for those who may follow football but not necessarily marching. After all, regardless of if you're glued to your seat every pregame and halftime or if you consider the marching band simply a living, breathing stereo meant to deliver the fight song and a few other spirited tunes, there's no denying that college football wouldn't be the same without it. If you're going to see your team on the road, it would be nice to know if you'll have a little slice of home there. When you're at home, you'll know if you'll have to put up with Rocky Top or the War Chant 25 times a game.

I put it together by combing through the schedules--when available/updated--of the marching bands of the BCS AQ conferences (as well as the Division I HBCUs) as the base data. Beyond that, I get a little help, from current and former band members in the know, Twitter, Facebook, and wherever else tips present themselves, up to and including adding games as I'm watching them if I notice the road band is present. I typically update it weekly as game times that begin as TBA firm up, or as new information becomes available. I also began the Band on the Road Game of the Week last year, highlighting a game of particular note with two bands present each week.

I also rely upon you. The Band on the Road database is public and entirely editable through Google Docs. If you've got any information and are able to add it, please do so. As I said last year, I stick with the Big 6 and Division I HBCUs not out of slight, but simply the limitations of doing this of doing this on my own. If you'd like to include matchups from any other programs, by all means, add them!

I hope this resource serves you well. Without further ado:


I'm just going to go ahead and declare it a holiday.

Actually, I can't entirely take credit for that, as Dinkles, one of the premier marching shoes, did it last year when they declared it International Dinkles Day. In addition to the brand celebrating its 25th anniversary, the date was fitting: 8/25, or 8 2 (to) 5, a standard size marching step that covers five yards in eight steps.

Moving beyond the brand loyalty to Dinkles, however, I think it's a great day to celebrate all that is marching. In addition to the date itself, consider that it's also close to the start of football/marching season. This year, 8/25 sits exactly one week before college football's first Saturday, making it the start to a glorious week that will see the return of marching.

Here at 80 Minutes of Regulation, we'll be celebrating with the release of 2012's Band on the Road Project a little later this evening. There's also been some marching goodness shared on Facebook and Twitter. Enjoy!

Before the Clock Starts: Southeastern Conference

It's the final Saturday 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 6: Shame on me. I was nearly prepared to make this post with the Million Dollar Band from Alabama, temporarily forgetting, for all the national championship hype, that they didn't even win the SEC West, let alone the conference. As such, LSU's Golden Band from Tigerland.

That said, since I had it queued up, I'll give you an SEC double feature and include the national champions as well.

DCI 2012 Wrap

Here I sit, nearly two weeks after the fact, reflecting on the 2012 DCI season. It's what happens when work and blog get busy at the same time.

There comes a point where you've fed the beast so much it becomes impossible to tame.

The very reason for this space's existence is to juxtapose sport and marching/athletic music. And yet I find myself a bit troubled by life imitating art. Or art imitating life. Or art imitating sport.

This season the Blue Devils of Concord, California captured an unprecedented 15th DCI World Championship. Close on their heels, as they had been all season, Carolina Crown tied their best-ever finish with a silver medal. While all accounts are that Carolina Crown was the crowd favorite, Blue Devils simply could not be denied by the judges, touching off some plain ol' ugly on the internet on the part of Crown fans and Blue Devils haters--often one in the same--alike. Thankfully, there was nothing that came through audibly on the online broadcast of the retreat and awards from Finals, but the backlash from the internet was palpable. Many of the Crown faithful were not happy.

I never got to see Crown and Devs in the same show (while both were at NightBEAT, a sick daughter prompted our departure before Crown, who we'd seen at FirstBEAT, performed) but at least on one viewing apiece, I loved Crown and BD didn't do it for me. That said, I will readily admit that I'm a Crown fan, and while I've got nothing against these Blue Devils--unlike their synonyms at Duke and Central Connecticut State--they have many times not been my cup of tea. Still, it seemed clear to me that the Blue Devils were just the better corps that night and all season long, period.

I'm no stranger to passionate, over-the-top, and frankly, assholian fanbases. I am, after all, and Eagles fan and a part time Terps fan. Still, I never thought I'd find myself seeing the same from my fellow Crown fans. But indeed, Crown has found itself a passionate following, for better or for worse. But as much as I speak about marching/athletic music and sports in the same breath, it is my preference that the  two remain distinct in at least some ways. For example, as an Eagles fan, I hope that we beat the everloving piss out of the Cowboys twice a year, and I'd wish for three times if we met in the playoffs, which I'd also actively root against because I hope they lose every game. In contrast, I'd consider the Cadets the corps that I "hate" the most, as there was a pretty solid streak where I didn't see eye-to-eye with their shows or their director. And yet, in 2011, I found myself unapologetically rooting for the Cadets, who I thought had an amazing, well-written and well-performed show, while I was slightly less thrilled with the show of my favorite corps. The absolutism of "my team right or wrong" that I exhibit in sport simply doesn't make its way into drum corps. And while I sometimes find myself disagreeing with judges, I see it simply as that, a disagreement on the merits of an artform, a difference of opinion, not a conspiracy to slight my favorite corps. But what happens when it seems everyone disagrees with the judges?

Before the 2012 season, DCI did an overhaul of the judges sheets intended to reward corps who connect with the audience. All evidence I've heard is that Crown was quite clearly the people's champion, even in light of the Blue Devils' clear victory to the judges. So if the sheets do not truly place the judges on one accord with the crowd--understanding, of course, that there are technical elements that judges are evaluating that many in the crowd are not--what is the best way to do so? The change to the sheets is evidence that it is the goal of the league to reward connecting with the crowd, but at least this year's admittedly small sample size suggests that this may not have functioned in the manner intended. Does DCI go the route of a split champion? One awarded by the judges and another rewarded in another manner--either direct audience voting or some manner of fan or media poll?

I want to make it perfectly clear: I congratulate the 2012 champion Blue Devils, and for all I know, it may be a small but vocal minority of fans out there giving the rest a bad name. But from what I hear, just in terms of cheers on Finals night, the crowd don't lie. Let's find a way to capture and reward that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I'm Gonna Miss H.E.R.

(With all respect due to Common, whose extended metaphor I'm essentially jacking wholesale)

There was this young lady who used to be in my class. Most saw her as out of my league--she was really going places and while I was no slouch, I was no star either. She was already involved with someone, but call me crazy, I felt like something was there. I know I felt it and I'd like to think every once in a while, she felt it too.

Before I could even explore what could be, she got a call up to the big city. Great chance to improve her situation. She saw this town going nowhere and when she got the call, she took it. I'm not mad at her for that, but I'm left wondering what might have been. She's headed to the big time, and I'm still in town here. Every now and again, I'll see things around town that remind me of her. And I know at this point I don't even have a reason to feel anything, but I can't help but wonder. I know she didn't leave town on the best of terms, but I hope that at some point we'll meet again...

*                    *                    *

Believe it or not, the young lady in this scenario is West Virginia. As a South Florida alum, we don't truly have a rival, at least not yet. I've got a few matchups that I've always thought of as more important than others: Louisville and Cincinnati, because of the length of our history. Rutgers, because I just plain don't like them. Central Florida, as the annoying little brother who'll soon be a conference rival. But West Virginia has always been something special to me, and while I don't know if the feeling was mutual from Morgantown (or for that matter, from Tampa) that matchup always said rivalry to me.

West Virginia was consistently the class of the conference, and we were a Johnny-come-lately--to football in general, but especially to big time football. And yet, in the seven years we shared a conference, we got the better of them in three of those years, better than anybody else over the same stretch. I'd like to think both that they respected us for that, and that this fact stuck in their craw a little bit. I had the pleasure of being there for the 2006 USF victory at Mountaineer Field.

More than that though, WVU's always been my rivalry of proximity. I work with several Mountaineers. Living in NC and visiting family in MD and DE, we usually cross into the state when traveling. And outside of the in-state schools, WVU is one of the schools I see most often represented here.

Yet when I do see the stickers or the apparel, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel. Time was, I'd feel a tinge of good-natured rivalry. A desire to pop whatever USF apparel I had on or pass them on the highway so they could see the green and gold on the back of my car. To some degree, I still do, even though there's no telling when we'll see each other again on the football field.

I'm thinking WVU is probably persona non grata on Big East schedules, at least in the near future, but once cooler heads prevail, I'd love to see them make their way back as a non-conference series for the Bulls.

Fall, Football and Fashion

This actually isn't entirely on-topic for this blog's usual material, but I hope you'll afford me that luxury.

It's a time of year for which most every football fan spends the better part of the year waiting. The summer sports doldrums (for those who don't follow baseball, and even some who do) are drawing to a close, football is nearly upon us, and with it, the tailgates, camaraderie, and marching bands it brings. At least here in NC, the hot days that gave way to still-hot nights have at least broken to the point that there's a legitimate chill in the air in the mornings.

And Sam Adams Oktoberfest is on the shelves.

Now I love fall and all of the things that come with it, including football, the weather, beer selections and all-pumpkin-everything. Still, even working in higher education where that which we call fall starts in August, I'm not sure I feel comfortable making such a bold declaration of fall's arrival midway through August.

Beer is undoubtedly part of the sports fan and particularly college football landscape. In certain areas of the country--I live in one of them--fashion is as well. The common social custom is that certain items--white shoes and seersucker, to name a few--designated for summer months are not to be worn past summer's unofficial end, Labor Day. I think such a line of demarcation makes sense on the other end as well.

Rest assured, you'll never catch me in seersucker drinking a Punkin Ale.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Before the Clock Starts: Pac-12

Only two 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 5: Representing the Pac-12 Champion, the Oregon Marching Band.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Perhaps I spoke too soon...

I said earlier that there's no place for drum corps in Olympic competition. I stand by that. But meeting a new sport today has me willing to accept a slight revision.

Watching the Olympics, I came across group rhythmic gymnastics for the first time. The women are competing on balls right now, but I learned that ribbons and hoops is also an Olympic competition. This immediately got me thinking towards colorguard making its way into the Olympics. After all, with the apparatuses already in competition, why not add rifles, sabres, flags, and batons?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Before the Clock Starts: Big 12

Only three 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 4: Representing the Big 12, the Cowboy Marching Band from Oklahoma State University.

Friday, August 10, 2012

All of the Summer Games

I can't help but notice that we're at that point every four years when both the Olympics' Summer Games and Drum Corps International's Summer Music Games are drawing to a close.
New look to the Olympic Rings
No, I'm not here to advocate for drum corps in the Olympics. I've got a few issues with that, not the least of which is the sheer logistical nightmare of each competing nation's traveling party increasing by 150 or more. And while I believe members of the top flight marching units are athletes, I have never been of the belief that marching band or drum corps are sports.

That said, there are plenty of parallels that one can't help but notice when paying attention to both activities. After all, both include competition amongst some of the best of their respective craft. And while this isn't the case for all of the Olympics, sports like gymnastics (and in the winter, ice skating) involve one of the pieces that often drives the sport-or-not debate: Judges. The thing is, the Olympics reveal their scores in a manner that keeps up with the speed of the action and more importantly, works at the speed of television: Right after each routine. We the viewing audience have made a snap judgment at how we felt a routine performed, and we get near-instant feedback about how the experts felt about it and where it stacks up against the routines we've seen thus far.

Why is this absent from DCI? I know that score tallying takes a bit of time, but then, so do corps changeovers. In this era of technology, there's no reason field judges can't be recording into iPods, press box judges can't be tabulating on iPads, and all of the information, including scores and commentary can't be sent and tabulated by the time the applause is over to be announced immediately? It would tighten up shows and provide timely feedback to the audience.

But what of the climactic end of the show, where all the drum majors wait patiently for scores to be read in reverse order? Let's be honest, no one is sticking around exactly for the pomp and circumstance of that particular mechanism, simply what it brings about--the results (and hopefully, a corps encore). With tallied scores in hand, DCI could instead use that time for a full corps retreat and medal ceremony at each show. The potential exists for bringing back mass corps performances or even other features to enhance the show, a la Tour of Champions.

While the largest shows and championship weekend may feature scores before all corps have finished performing, it is still not with the immediacy of scores after every corps. Give us that, tighten up the shows, and give a little much needed pageantry back into the pageantry. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Before the Clock Starts: Big Ten

Only four 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 3: The Badger Band from Big Ten champion Wisconsin.

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