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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tour of Champions Re-Revisited

Back a few years ago, before the Tour of Champions got underway, did a slight rewrite of the touring schedule for the then-five show series, spreading the shows out geographically and making use of large metro areas and major stadiums.

Now, in its third season of existence, the Tour of Champions has morphed, though only slightly. Instead of picking up an eighth corps, the seven corps who crafted the manifesto that spawned the TOC decided to go it alone - never mind the fact that they weren't the seven top corps from 2012. They've also grown the tour from five shows to seven. To me, seven corps and seven shows seems like a great formula for everyone to get a home show, but since two pairs of corps share geographic proximity, the ability still exists to spread shows beyond just the corps' home regions.

I'll start where I started last time: The show in the Meadowlands (I realize a conflict moved it to Allentown this year) still makes perfect sense, and can serve as home for the New Jersey-born, Allentown-based Cadets while keeping a DCI presence in the New York metro area.

On to the shared shows. With the Cavaliers in Rosemont and Phantom Regiment in Rockford, Illinois makes sense, but again, with all due respect to DeKalb, which sits between the two, I'm moving this show to the bright lights of the big city. Now that we know that a football field fits within Wrigley, in this exercise I'll move this show to the Friendly Confines. Drum corps from the rooftops, anyone?

Out in the Bay, Santa Clara Vanguard and the Blue Devils get to share the other show. With Levi's Stadium, the new home of the 49ers, opening in Santa Clara, it becomes even more of a home show for SCV, but something tells me fans of the 15 time world champions would find their way there.

For the last two, Carolina Crown is a no-brainer, maintaining NightBEAT in Charlotte, while the Bluecoats could add a show in Northeast Ohio. While I'm tempted to move this to the home of the Browns up in Cleveland, putting this one in Fawcett Stadium, adjacent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, might be a night chance for the Bluecoats to show off their own hometown.

So now that everyone's got a home show, what of the last two? The shows listed above provide pretty decent geographic spread, especially when you add major events in Minnesota, Texas, and Georgia which will all feature these corps. In my previous post I let Murphreesboro keep the Masters of the Summer Music Games, so assuming all seven finish in the top eight, they'll see each other there as well.

The one time zone missing from the current set up is the Mountain, so I'm sending a show to its unofficial capital, Denver. Sports Authority Field is reportedly a great venue for everything from football to lacrosse to drum corps. I hate to step on Blue Knights toes like this, but it makes good sense. Maybe it can become a two night doubleheader?

Finally, I'm not sure anyone knows the true answer to the decline of major drum corps shows in Florida. I've heard rumors it's the evil Disney lobby, or a rule in place that makes overnight stay in high school gyms an impossibility. Perhaps it's just too damned inefficient to have to dip down into a peninsula and turn back around when on a national tour. Whatever the barrier, I'd put the remaining show down in Florida. Despite my allegiances to the Tampa Bay area, I think building upon the tradition of drum corps in Orlando makes the most sense.

There you have it. Seven corps, seven shows, all over the US. Sign me up!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

East Corps Bias

This year, Carolina Crown started the DCI season in the western US, going head to head with the corps out that way, including Santa Clara Vanguard and the Blue Devils. It was much lauded, as is the annual trip from an eastern corps our west each year.

The thing is, the western corps come east every year.

Why do we make such a big deal of eastern corps going west, and why don't they do it more often? While I understand that there are increased budget implications, it doesn't stop the west's heavy hitters from having to be in at least Atlanta and Allentown each year. In fact, not only are perennial finalist Santa Clara and 15-time World Champion Blue Devils expected to budget for the trip, but so are first-year-in-World-Class Oregon Crusaders and never-made-finals Pacific Crest. I'll readily admit my own east coast bias, but why should the entire west coast always play on the road?

I'm not claiming that this creates a competitive disadvantage for the western corps; indeed, over half of the world championships have featured a west coast champion. Nor am I claiming that this touring schedule puts these corps in a financial bind. In fact, that most of the recently inactive and defunct corps hail from the east may be evidence that it takes a more financially solvent corps to survive the wild wild west. But the real loser here is the western fans. They've gotten the short end of the stick, with one Finals held west of the Rockies (and an additional three in Denver), one to two eastern corps making the trip a year, and always catching the heavy hitters in the early part of the season, not at their competitive peak.

DCI - do right by the west and give them more drum corps!

Finals LIVE

In front of the crowd in Atlanta at the Southeastern Regional, Drum Corps International announced that they will be broadcasting Finals live on the Fan Network - $69, or $49 for Fan Network subscribers. I know they've already been met with criticism - one needs look no further than their Facebook page or their Twitter mentions to find it - but I think it's a great idea.

First of all, when they started teasing a "big announcement" yesterday, I hoped they weren't myopic enough to know that if they're going to build this much hype, it ought to be about the flagship brand and not about Drumline Battle or SoundSport which, while strong in their own right, probably feel forced down our throats by most drum corps fans. I was pleased to hear that their announcement was indeed about DCI proper.

The primary criticism that I've seen has been about the price point. Indeed, one can get decent seats in Lucas Oil Stadium for less than the cost, at least for the non-subscribers. That is part of the brilliance here. Other than the infrastructure to pull off a broadcast of this magnitude, I'm guessing that DCI's primary concern here was the potential of disincentivizing Finals attendance. This cost ensures that it doesn't do that - those for whom Finals is within reasonable travel can and hopefully will still attend - but it allows for those who can't make the trip to still see Finals live. Someone else compared the cost to that of the DVDs, pointing out that with them, you can watch an unlimited number of times. And while that may be true, no one wants to watch the Super Bowl on tape delay when they can see it live. As with sports, there's nothing like watching in real time.

To me, this isn't a hard sell at all. Even if the cost seems a bit high, you get some of your corps-loving friends together, split the cost, and make a party of it. DCI Finals live on a big screen TV when you can't be there live? Makes perfect sense to me.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Before the Clock Starts: T-5 Weeks

Only five Saturdays remain without football, and Before the Clock Starts continues into its second year.

As with last year, we'll take a look at what 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.

The Florida State Seminoles won the SEC ACC championship for the second time during the Championship Game era; the first since its inaugural year. Having attended that game, I saw the Marching Chiefs live last year as their football team won the championship that warrants their inclusion.

Representing the ACC, FSU's Marching Chiefs

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Before the Clock Starts: T-6 Weeks

Only six Saturdays remain without football, and Before the Clock Starts continues into its second year.

As with last year, we'll take a look at what 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.

I'm unsure if I'll continue the inclusion of the American Athletic Conference after this year (I probably will, as a USF alumnus) but this year, as a BCS autoqualifying conference, their inclusion is undeniable. Final Big East football champion Louisville had a helluva year across all its athletics seasons: a BCS bowl win in football, a national championship in men's basketball, a title game loss in women's basketball, and a College World Series berth for baseball.

Representing the Big East (American Athletic Conference) Champion: Louisville Cardinal Marching Band

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Before the Clock Starts: T-7 Weeks

Only seven Saturdays remain without football, and Before the Clock Starts continues into its second year.

As with last year, we'll take a look at what 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.

Last year, I was quite intentional about leaving Notre Dame out. After all, the model calls for conference champions; if you're not in a conference, you don't get to play. That said, I conceded this year than an undefeated regular season and a national championship game appearance warranted inclusion, so here they are.

Notre Dame - The Band of the Fighting Irish

Monday, July 8, 2013

Marching Music Media Days

Having just spent an entire post putting DCI corps in a college athletic conference framework, allow me to about face.

One of the truest harbingers of the college football season - Media Days - is right around the corner. Media days offer an opportunity for fans to get optimistic about their still-undefeated teams as coaches and players get put through the rigamarole and address members of the media. For the college-football-starved populace, their beginning in mid-July is a sure sign that the season itself is right around the corner.

I've speculated - sometimes publicly - about media days encompassing more of the college football experience, namely, the bands. It wouldn't be much to throw a band director and a drum major on the bill for each school. That said, I recognize that the audience for that is limited (me and perhaps you, dear reader), at least among the football crowd. So if you're going to do marching music media days, why not put it on where you know fans of the activity will be?

While DCI pushes event attendance largely to high school students, the fact is most of the marchers at the world class level are college-aged. Knowing that some of your student leaders may be on tour, while many more are attending shows, why not use DCI shows a host for Marching Music's Media Days?

Again using the conference framework - since that's how media days are structured - as a model, roughly the same time frame used for college football would work for 3MD. The Southwestern Regional in San Antonio could host media days for the Pac-12 and Big 12. The SEC would find itself right at home in the Georgia Dome during the Southeastern Championship in Atlanta. The ACC could find its home a week later at the Eastern Classic in Allentown, and Big Ten bands could start their season in the same place they all hope to end it: Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. In each location, the "marching media" would have their crack at conference band leadership while taking in some drum corps to boot. Where do I sign up?

Corps Conferences

With Carolina Crown out west trying to strengthen what in sports parlance is their out-of-conference schedule, I'm again examining the idea of DCI corps in conferences. While my previous proposal probably made a good deal more practical sense, I thought I'd toy with the concept through NCAA conferences. While it was just a couple of posts ago that I was emphasizing the fact that there are still six AQ conferences, I deferred to an earlier post on the Big East/American's geographic redundancy and saw fit to use just the "Power Five" *gag* conferences. Breaking them out that way, the World Class corps find themselves in the following:

Boston Crusaders
Jersey Surf

Big Ten
Blue Stars
Madison Scouts
Phantom Regiment

Big 12
Blue Knights

Blue Devils
Oregon Crusaders
Pacific Crest
Santa Clara Vanguard

Carolina Crown
Spirit of Atlanta

A few notes on this: First of all, there were a few corps that could have gone in a number of directions; in each case I erred on the side of numerical balance. For example, the Cadets' east coast presence makes the ACC make the most sense; however, their presence in PA and historical affiliation with NJ - both states with flagships in the Big Ten, at least come 2014 - might have made that conference a possibility. The Colts clearly side with the Heartland, even though Iowa could have put them in the Big Ten or Big 12. And if I didn't choose to stick with the Pac-10 instead of Pac-12 footprint, Colorado's Blue Knights - and by extension, Wyoming's Troopers - would have found themselves aligned with the west coast corps. That said, if I had used all of the FBS conferences, both would have been Mountain West shoe-ins. And if it wouldn't have left Spirit as the sole SEC representative, Carolina Crown on the South Carolina side of the Charlotte metro area, could have gone the ACC route. Still, no one else even makes a semi-logical claim to the region, unless you REALLY want to stretch and put the Crossmen there as your Texas A&M.

Clearly, the Rose Bowl alliance conferences have the lion's share of corps. That said, everyone but the Big 12 has at least one of the Tour of Champions corps present. Of note, however, is how thin the SEC region is, especially considering that's a piece of the country folks tend to look to for excellence on a football field. In addition to the seven Sudlers in the SEC alone, there's a tradition of excellence with black college marching bands, located almost exclusively in the south. That said, it's worth noting that southern marchers likely populate all major corps, as the activity is no longer regional. Still, three recently folded World Class corps - Teal Sound, Magic of Orlando, and Southwind - hail from the footprint as well.

At the end of the day, while the conferences as we know them work for major college athletics, it may not be transferrable to the corps.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Before the Clock Starts: T-8 Weeks

July's here, which means we are technically a month away from college football. OK, it's the beginning of July, and football starts at the end of August, putting us eight weeks from the glory of Labor Day Weekend.

This year, I'm returning to Before the Clock Starts a little earlier than I did last year. Last year, I went through the six AQ conferences; this year I've cast the net a bit wider.

Since starting the Band on the Road project, I've included the MEAC and SWAC. While they don't play the highest level of college football, there's no denying that HBCU fans take bands more seriously than those at predominantly white institutions. And with all due respect to the CIAA and SIAC, my personal compromise was to stick to Division I programs.

As with last year, we'll take a look at what 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.

MEAC Champion: Bethune-Cookman University Marching Wildcats

SWAC Champion: University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South (M4)

Of course, since I am dipping into the FCS ranks, I can't ignore the school who actually won it all at that level of competition, North Dakota State University and its Gold Star Marching Band.

And finally, from without the six AQ conferences, one school, Northern Illinois University, crashed the BCS party with an appearance in the Orange Bowl. Representing the Mid American Conference, the Husky Marching Band.

Before the Clock Starts will continue each Saturday until the clock starts on the 2013 season. Stay tuned!

Outside Looking In

I got a new phone a few months ago. One of the nice features is that I can get all sorts of information, including sports updates, on little widgets called "cards". Naturally, my first move was to plug in my favorite teams. When I started typing in South Florida, I was able to add USF basketball, but not football. If I recall, I may have been curious about it for a moment at the time, but something shiny happened and since no games were imminent at the time, I forgot about it. I was interacting with it again today, and was again a bit confused until it hit me: USF is no longer a major conference team.

I no longer have a major conference team.

This isn't entirely true, at least not yet. Even in the BCS' lame duck year, it remains the currency of major conference status, and the American Athletic Conference still has an automatic bid. Still, even as the Worldwide Leader has shifted its jargon to "Power Five" from "Big Six" or "BCS" conferences - despite being contractually obligated to the BCS which is, in turn, obligated to the American - Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville's proficiency allows them to speak of the Cardinals as the champion of a conference that shall not be named, an independent traveler with an inconvenient layover on its way to the ACC.

While it became evident in an unexpected way today, the mortality of my major conference rooting interest hasn't been lost on me. And while I'm a Bull (and Retriever, don't forget) for life and would be such if either dropped to Division III, I have thought about the fact that I don't have a rooting interest in the "major" conferences anymore. And while my fandom isn't for sale nor rent, I'm curious.

Let's get hypothetical: If I put this out there to you, the reader, who should be my major conference team?
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