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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Big East (1979-2013)

I never thought I'd find myself eulogizing the Big East Conference. While I've spoken plenty of its demise, I've got no right to speak at its funeral. After all, I'm an alumnus of one of the football Johnny-come-lately schools, a school which, other than a spark in the 2011-2012 season, has absolutely no birthright to the rich tradition that is Big East basketball. Perhaps that's precisely why I saw what I saw, and why I feel compelled to write this.

The championship game of the final Big-East-as-we-know-it Tournament provided a perfect allegory for the downfall of a once great conference.

Syracuse and Louisville arrived at the same point by two very different means, in more ways than one. Syracuse was an architect of the grand experiment that became the Big East Conference in 1979; Louisville joined during its last expansion in 2005, a last-ditch effort to save the conference after Virginia Tech, Miami, and Boston College were poached by the ACC. Both are now ACC bound; Syracuse was an addition as the conference decided to expand to 14 (now 15) schools; Louisville was added to replace the University of Maryland-College Park after it announced its departure for the Big Ten.

1 Timothy 6:10 is often misquoted. "Money is the root of all evil," quote many, but in full, the love of money is the root of all evil. Likewise, some will claim that football killed the nation's greatest basketball conference, but it was the love of football, its ever growing contracts, endless paper chase, and the realignment that was precipitated by it all, that killed the Big East.

As the conference swansong began, it seemed that a night in which all things Big East basketball were celebrated would be a coronation of the old guard. Syracuse dominated the first half, entering the locker room with a 35-22 lead and leading by as many as 16 in the second half. But when Louisville awakened, it took a lead off of a 24-3 run and never looked back. From that point on, it was all Cardinals, leaving those watching to wonder what they had just witnessed as the final seconds ticked away from the Big East Conference.

There's something perversely poetic about the end of the Big East Conference coming as a conference newcomer takes down an original member. Louisville is the conference's current football champion (to be fair, so is Syracuse, in a four-way tie that further highlights the absurdity of Big East football of late, but Louisville was the BCS representative) and was a member of Conference USA just eight years ago. The two will part ways for just a season, as Syracuse heads to the ACC and Louisville plays one year in the yet-to-be-named conference containing the remaining Big East football schools and additions, before being reunited when Louisville joins the ACC in 2014.

The Big East isn't dead, some may say. Indeed, a Big East tournament will play a year from now, in Madison Square Garden. But the Big East, as long recognized and celebrated, has died. It may have died tonight. It may have died back in 2005 and it's just been Sixth Sensing it ever since, because we all wanted to believe. But after this season, the founders will be scattered to the four winds. Boston College has been gone for nearly a decade. Georgetown, Providence, St. John's, and Seton Hall will carry the name into the new conference, with Villanova and newcomers Marquette and DePaul. Syracuse, much to the annoyance of head coach Jim Boeheim, will play its next conference tournament in Greensboro, NC, and Louisville will spend a year in limbo before joining their foes from tonight in the Gate City. No one extant entity will lay a legitimate claim to the history of the Big East, but it is possible the conference's entire story was told tonight in 40 minutes.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Protect Ya 'Neck'

Nearly a year ago, when Norfolk State beat Missouri to become just the fifth 15-seed to ever upset a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament, their pep band didn't pull up the fight song. They didn't pull up Behold. They played Neck.

Neck - the colloquial abbreviation for Talking Out the Side of Your Neck by Cameo - has long been an HBCU band staple, and the example above points out just how ingrained it is in the culture of black college bands. Lately, you're just as likely to hear Neck at a sporting event, HBCU and PWI alike, as you are to hear Land of A Thousand Dances or the Hey Song. In one session of the ACC Tournament this week, two of the four bands in the session played it, and many more have it in the books. Some in the HBCU band world and beyond have cried foul.

I'm of two minds on the subject, and while I realize I don't have the ownership of the song that comes from having played at an HBCU, I cannot begrudge HBCU bandheads that feeling. When I first heard it coming off the horns of LSU, one of the first predominantly white bands, to my knowledge, to begin playing Neck, I quipped something about them sneaking across town under cover of darkness to watch Southern University practice. Many noticing would say that this is just one more thing being appropriated from black culture.

The counterpoint is that music is music, and of course PWI bands have just as much right to play the song as HBCUs. After all, it's silly to dictate who can play what song, especially if that divide comes along cultural or racial lines. Besides, all sorts of athletic bands have been playing jazz, funk, R&B and hip-hop charts for decades. What makes this song so special?

I think it represents an evolution in the activity, and part of it I'd attribute to the Drumline Effect. I was brought up as a musician being taught that music is there to thrill an audience, and Neck certainly does exactly that. Any HBCU bandhead will likely tell you that they put the most exciting product on the field and in the stands. Then, isn't it worthy of emulation? Isn't imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

On the other hand - and I'll admit I'm not sure the best way to do this - it wouldn't kill PWIs who have picked up the tune to acknowledge its roots. The song rose to prominence off of the horns and drums of HBCUs, and that mention ought to go part and parcel with playing the song. Give credit where credit is due.

Otherwise, you're talkin' out the side of your neck.

2013 ACC Tournament Twitrospective

My first twitrospective came two years ago as a way to share the tweets generated from attending the ACC men's basketball tournament. The tourney's back in Greensboro, and once again I made my way over to the Coliseum. I was content to hang out in the atmosphere, but I figured I wouldn't mind going in, if I could get tickets for less than $5. Perhaps a tall order, but the first session in particular featured three out-of-state teams, one of which was conference outlier Boston College. Tickets were as low as 95 cents on StubHub, so I figured $5 wasn't unreasonable, and sure enough, I found someone to take me up on the offer, so in I went.

Enough with the greets, let's get to the tweets!

I parked on the street so as not to pay the Coliseum for parking. No friction from the city, but apparently the nearest resident wasn't too pleased:
Duly noted.
I said this tongue-in-cheek, given the large screen broadcasting the games taking place immediately behind me, but of course there was a reason. The pep bands.
Next year's conference makeup and tournament will look a good deal different.
If you aren't familiar, Red Panda is an acrobat who rides a giant unicycle and kicks bowls up onto her head. This description doesn't give it justice.
Wait a minute...
Actually, it was a red vest, yellow shirt, and MD flag croakies, but I like my version better.
I know if you're a beat writer for a team that's not playing, you have no reason to be there, but empty seats on media row mirrored the ones in the arena. Maybe they need a spot for a pep band blogger...

Gearing up for game 2...
It's true. The VT game I went to was over winter break and the pep band was nowhere to be found.
An interjection from a fellow Bull on the Big East Tournament up in the Garden:
It's true. The place came alive when State took the floor.
Since I got used to using the hashtag...
This may seem like a personal attack, and I'd apologize if it weren't true.
Interestingly enough, there was very little of this, that is, trumpets playing above their paygrade and abilities.
This begins and concludes your actual sports coverage.
Someone sure was.
Red Panda earlier in the session and Quick Change for the nightcap, the day was full of halftime heavy-hitters.
I would love to get to arranging again...
Similarly, NC State, an agricultural school, plays a stylized Old McDonald.
More on Neck in a future post.
Wake has a similar tradition, and it wouldn't surprise me if others did as well.
There it is again.
Don't know if it's a rule, but it makes good sense, instead of both bands clashing at 0.0. The winner earned it.

That's the last live #marchbandness you'll get from me this season, though I'll certainly keep up with the games on TV.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Heel Turn

I don't mean for this to be a individual attack, but at the same time, he put himself out there knowing what may come of it.

An article posted yesterday in the Duke Chronicle written by a student who attends UNC and plays in the pep band, yet is a lifelong Duke fan. His mother was an equipment manager for the Blue Devils, but he chose academics over athletics and UNC had his major while Duke didn't. He now sits in the belly of the beast, blowing his horn (or beating the drums, it didn't specify his instrument) in support of the team he hates the most.

I simply can't understand. As you probably know, my band experience is inextricably tied to my experience as a sports fan. As a band member, I wasn't simply playing my drums at another gig. I was actively involved in rooting my team on to victory. I can understand and appreciate going to the school that's going to set you up for the best future, and if your dream school doesn't have your major or is subpar in it, it's a choice you've got to make. I don't know that I'd go to an archrival, but that's just me. Still, once you find yourself there, why would you put yourself in the position of having to at least put on the public appearance of supporting a team you despise more than a dozen times a year? Unless the major he is attending UNC for is theatre, or this is a grand sociological experiment, I just don't get it. If the desire is to play, join a non-athletics based ensemble. Start a band with some friends. Play in the community. Hell, even if athletic band is you passion - I can't blame you if it is - you could do marching band but not pep band, if your allegiance truly lies on the basketball side of things.

The UNC pep band's near sole purpose is to support the basketball team. While it is a musical ensemble, in that sense they are functionally no different than other spirit groups. If the shoe were on the other foot, do you envision aUNC fan attending Duke to run out and become a Cameron Crazy? Of course not, because at its very root it means supporting that which you purport to despise. Unless your endgame is espionage or sabotage, it makes no sense, and by outing himself, it would seem clear that this student's goal is not that.

There's a bit more that I speak as a pep band alumnus and one who still considers himself a part of the athletic music community. There is a belief, sometimes accurate, that band members do not care about the sport they support. I know at least in the case of Baltimore's Marching Ravens, they've been accused by detractors of getting premium seats for free that "real fans" could be sitting in. This of course discounts the fact that oftentimes, the band members are among the most loyal supporters. That this band member could sit in the stands and not only not give a damn about his team, but in fact be silently rooting against them, helps feed this belief. Hopefully the others in the Carolina pep band are showing how much they care.

Friday, March 8, 2013

BasketBinge 2013 - The Aftermath

Not a bad way to spend a weekend.
As promised, I took to the road this past weekend, taking in three games in two days in a 750 mile road trip.

Stop 1 - UMCP at Wake Forest
My first stop was actually backtracking from the overall trajectory of the trip, heading west before ultimately trending northeast, but I didn't have to leave my own metro area to zip over to Winston-Salem for the Terps at Wake Forest. As I mentioned before, this game was actually a late filler for what I thought was going to be a trip to Butler-VCU, but it ended up being a blessing in disguise. While it would have been great to see the VCU pep band, the basketball team ultimately mashed out the Bulldogs. The Terps-Deacs was a good deal more competitive, and still didn't disappoint on the pep band front.

I learned just before that it was CP3 Day, honoring Wake Forest alumnus and Winston-Salem native Chris Paul. Upon entering, I got a few CP3 Day T-shirt, which was a Jordan brand CP3 shirt with no Wake Forest branding, other than being black and gold. Score!

I was pleased that I read Stadium Journey's review of Wake's home court and knew that the pep band would parade into the arena to their seats (which I was also perfectly poised to see). When I heard the horns and drums go by outside my section, I headed out and caught this:

Without propping my Wake Forest experience entirely on the aforementioned article, I will agree with the point that Wake's pep band is "better than average" and allowed to play more often than not. I've been critical of their marching band iteration before, but I give their pep band plenty of credit.

The Chris Paul presentation was done during halftime, and his number was immortalized in the rafter. It also happened to be the last home game, so senior members of the team, pep band, and spirit squads were recognized at various points during the game.

The Terps ultimately won, though apparently I was incognito enough rooting for the Terps, because at some point the guy in front of me asked if I thought they (Wake) could pull it out. I didn't have the heart to tell him I hoped not.

Following the game, I decided to take a brief constitutional around the lot while waiting for cars to leave. OK, maybe I forgot where I parked, but it served that purpose as well.

It was time for the trip's longest haul, and I needed to be in place 300 miles away. While I typically avoid I-95 in VA on trips north, it was the most direct route this time through, so I hoped it wouldn't be the parking lot it can be at times. I was fortunate in that it went off pretty much without a hitch, which was good, because I didn't have much time to spare, but I was in my seat in the Verizon Center before tipoff.

Stop 2 - SUNJ at Georgetown
First of all, despite having been to DC my entire life (my mom grew up there, and my grandma still lives there) I had never been to the environs of the Verizon Center. I found somewhat reasonable parking ($15) and walked the couple of blocks to the arena and climbed into my 400 level seats. One of the first things I noticed was that the Verizon Center felt huge, even though I've looked it up since and it's got a smaller capacity than the Greensboro Coliseum. The second was the history in that shared building - it had banners from the Capitals, the Bullets, and the Hoyas.

If the sole intent of this trip was three pep bands, I would have fallen short, and it was Georgetown's fault. The Anacostia Sr. High School Marching Pride was filling in. While I was prepared to take Georgetown to task for this, I'm willing to offer them an out. One the one hand, interestingly enough, I've only seen major conference teams ever not have a pep band in the stands. I saw it here and I saw it at Virginia Tech. In contrast, we played games over break at UMBC, and the pep band at UNCG is always present. It was Spring Break at Georgetown, and while that shouldn't be an excuse by itself, they have this mitigating circumstance: Their Spring Break ran this past week and into this weekend. Tomorrow night, they play Syracuse in their Big East finale against their archrival. If they could only have the band at one of their break games, that's the one for it.

Rutgers actually put up more of a fight than they were expected to. I was rooting for the home team, because as you may have heard me say before, Ruck Futgers. Big East officiating was in full effect in this game, unfortunately - hopefully the Catholic schools that are keeping the name take them with them.

After the game and the walk back through Chinatown to my car, it was a relatively short jaunt up the B-W Parkway to my resting place for the night, a cheap motel (cheaper on Hotwire) near BWI and UMBC's campus. the walls were thin, but that didn't stop me from passing out after a long day of games and driving.

Stop 3 - Binghamton at UMBC
Home sweet home. It actually may have been a full decade since I set foot in the RAC (I can't recall if I spent any time there the last significant time I was back on campus, Homecoming 2006). While tipoff was at 2pm, I was on campus at 11:30am, the report time for alumni drummers. I caught up with a few folks immediately: Paul, who I played with back in my day, and Matt, a fellow alum and current director, who I met back in '06. I was introduced to the current drumline as the guy who first bought field drums for the band. Back in my day (this would become a common theme of the experience) we had something like a bass, three snares, a set of quads, and a pair of cymbals. They were now marching seven basses, several snares, a couple of tenors, and a couple pairs of cymbals. I hadn't made up my mind as to if I was going to try my hand at drumline activities, as my entire pep band experience was on set, but being there I was able to pick up a cadence quickly that I ultimately ended up performing with the line at halftime.

There were actually quite a few folks from back in my days that were there, and it was good to see them all. Among them was Jock, who was a fellow drummer and a year older than me. I started in the pep band's second year, so with his presence we had a continuous link from the pep band's origins to the present day. Of course, we also had that with Jari, our longtime director, who came back as well.

We were addressed by Dr. Brown, our athletic director who is retiring after this year, and invited to give. I wasn't even mad at that - it's what you do when you bring affinity groups back for a reunion - and it did get me thinking about making a somewhat major gift again. Once upon a time, I donated a custom bass drum head, which was all well and good until it went obsolete with the logo change.

While my experience was with the pep band, it was actually the spirit groups alumni day, meaning there were also alumni back from the dance team, cheerleaders (which didn't exist back in my day) and Fever Retrievers (another dance group that didn't exist). There were a few dance team members from my time there as well.

There were at least five alumni drummers back, so my time on drumset was limited, as I knew it would be. While I missed my favorite piece (Sing Sing Sing) I got to hop on for a few others. So how was I? In sports parlance, I've lost a step, but I wasn't horrible, considering I hadn't touched a drumset in nearly seven years. The whole experience was good times with great people - many I had once played with and many more who I'd never met but with whom I shared a common bond through the Down and Dirty Dawg Band.

The game was a UMBC victory; it's not a great year for the Dawgs, but we managed to pull the team in the league worse than us for the home finale. We closed with the alma mater - it's been in existence for less time than I've been out of school, but I made it a point to learn the lyrics. It was also the processional at our wedding. Afterwards, Melanie, Everett, and I walked the campus. As I mentioned, I hadn't been back since 2006, save for a few drive throughs, and neither of them had been back since graduating, so things were quite different, yet strangely the same.

This was the third such gathering, and it was the first time I made the trip up. A few of us vowed to do it again, and try to get other fellow dinosaurs to come back as well. Maybe each time I can make a similar basketbinge out of it.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Could This Be The 1?

With a quick look at my TV label, I realize I've told this story before, but here it goes again.

Fox announced that Fox Sports 1, its all sports flagship, will come into being in August, and with it, I continue to hold out hope that some day, we will see marching content on television.

There are a few reasons for my continued hope. While I still don't believe marching/athletic music  to be a sport, there's no question that it's sports-adjacent, and as you know, by virtue of this very blog, I think it makes sense for them to share space. What it comes down to after that, assuming anyone else agrees, is a sheer numbers game. Eventually, the extant sports networks will max out on the content that is of vast commercial interest. While I can openly admit that, say, DCI may not be amazing for ratings, but as the pickin's get slimmer and slimmer, eventually the point comes where it's a better draw than an East Northeastern State field hockey game. Fox Sports 1 will likely beget at least Fox Sports 2, diluting the landscape even further.

Fox, since its first network burst onto the scene in 1987, has been one to push the culture and make a splash. While I recognize this sounds a lot like my case for NBC Sports, Fox is the network that has maintained its commitment to showing a decent amount of halftime during bowl game coverage, unlike the Worldwide Leader. They could be the one to take it on. And while it's certainly far from a slam dunk, if I'm an association that considers myself the major league of marching music, I'd be inclined to take a look.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

BasketBinge 2013

I'm hitting the road again.

I'm overselling it by calling it a "BasketBinge", but it's catchy so it stuck. I'm catching three games in two days, which is far less of a task than the four in one day I caught last year at the SoCon tournament. The difference? This time, it's in two states and a federal district and I'll cover over 350 miles end to end.

My decision to head north for UMBC's pep band alumni day started it all. Ten years removed from my career with the Down and Dirty Dawg Band, I'm making my way back for alumni day this year. I soon thought, hey, I can make a trip out of this and catch a few other games in the process.

I first set my sights on VCU, and as - luck? - would have it, they're facing off against new (and brief) A-10 conference foe Butler in a battle of recent Final Four Cinderellas. What's more, VCU's pep band is known to please, which is the reason I first looked in their direction. Unfortunately, the caliber of opponent made the ticket a bit rich for my blood.

I only recently decided I'd start the journey relatively locally, at Wake Forest as the Terps visit. They'll play a nooner over in Winston-Salem, and I just learned today that that game will be CP3 Day, where the Deacs will honor one of their own, NBA star and Winston-Salem native Chris Paul.

After that is where the trip gets ambitious: I'll hop in the car and hit the road up to DC to make it to Rutgers at Georgetown for a 9pm tip. There's plenty of time to make this happen, mind you, but it doesn't leave much room for error. While this is by no means a key Big East rivalry, recent developments do lead me to believe this will likely be the last time the two meet as conferencemates.

After a good night's sleep, I'll be up on Sunday to head over to the Retriever Activities Center, the arena I called home for four years and to this day. Looking at the RSVPs, it looks like there are a handful of other folks from my days, and a good deal much younger. I'm looking quite forward to this one-day-only unretirement.

I'm sure there'll be updates from the road. While they may make it here, I encourage you to follow on Twitter or Facebook to be sure to catch them.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Big East is Dead. Long Live the Big East.

It looks as though we finally have a clear path to how the Big East saga is going to end, or rather continue. The ubiquitous "sources" are reporting that the seceding Catholic 7 will sever ties following this season, join with Xavier and Butler, and retain the Big East name. The remaining football schools - an unsteady amalgam, as Louisville and Rutgers will not yet have departed - will need to find a new name.

The only part of this that's actually news is the timing and the final decision on the name. While it would be my preference that the Big East name be retired and both conferences emerge as something new, this is the next best option. As much as I, as a USF alum, have an affinity for the Big East name, it only goes back eight years. Of the schools on our side of the fence, only UConn has a birthright to the Big East, while Georgetown, Villanova, Providence, St. John's, and Seton Hall make the case clear for those who will retain the name. The split is still occurring along the predetermined lines, lines that were drawn far before many would admit it.

As for the football conference formerly known as the Big East? I have it on good authority that regardless of the name, the conference will maintain its autobid in the final year of the BCS as we know it, which is really all it had going for it anyway. All other second class citizen fears have already been realized, so this doesn't change much except for some nickel-and-diming with the TV contracts and the fact that the conference won't look as many expected it to in 2013-2014. The folks at Voodoo Five even point out that the financial windfall from the secessionists will likely end up greater for USF and the other schools left behind. And the original article seems to point to the conference containing the football schools maintaining a bid to the NCAA tournament, so we're covered there.

While the Catholic schools will take the name, the tournament at the Garden, and the history with them, neither conference is the Big East. While many changes have taken place throughout the conference's lifespan, this time it actually loses a sport, as the Big East that begins in 2013-2014 will be without football for the first time since 1991. The Big East as we know it is dead.
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