Rocky (Top) Relationship

The University of Tennessee's Pride of the Southland is "locked in a bitter battle" with the athletic department. The band cites having their budget cuts and canned music in the stadium as symptoms of the disrespect.

Athletic bands often find themselves at an uneasy crossroads between the music department and the athletics department. From the inside, it can sometimes feel like the band is claimed by whichever entity is less advantageous in a given situation. So while Athletics is often a natural home for the band, the relationship can at time be contentious, and in Knoxville, this is one of those times. The Pride began an online petition that caught the attention of the Athletics Department and, perhaps more importantly, the media. Tennessee Athletics has since responded to the allegations.

Of the two primary complaints, I only see one as a surefire sign of disrespect. While  a dwindling budget is cause for concern, it's important to note the climate. If the Athletics Department's fact check is truthful, the Pride of the Southland had their budget reduced by less than 1%. This is in a climate where Athletics had a significant financial shortfall, due in no small part to the Vols' on-the-field woes over the past several years and an inability at times to fill their stadium's over 102,000 seats. Frankly, it would be easy to see the band as expendable to satisfy the bottom line; that their budget didn't take more of a hit seems to me to be a testament to the support they continue to have for the band.

The second I consider a good deal more insidious, and part of a disturbing trend: The NFLification of college football. The passion and pageantry present in college football make it, by design, a separate quantity from the NFL, and in my opinion, the better one. This isn't the case of an upstart university with an untested band simply seeking to emulate what they see most often on TV - not that I like it in this case, either. No, this is the storied Tennessee Volunteers, boasting membership in the standard-bearing Southeastern Conference, one of the most recognizable (if not reviled) refrains in all of college athletics with Rocky Top, and, of course, the Pride of the Southland. That this band, in this situation in particular, should have to compete with the latest edition of Jock Jams is every bit the insult the band reads it as.

It would seem that for now, either through clarification or backpedaling, the two sides are amicable. The true test may come this coming Saturday when the Vols take the home field in Neyland Stadium again.

UPDATE (10/14): Pride of the Southland director Gary Sousa has been placed on administrative leave for the remainder of the fall semester, with insubordination cited as among the reasons. It is unclear if this stems from the initial situation or subsequent actions. Don Ryder, Associate Director for Bands, will assume responsibilities in the interim; Ryder already works extensively with the Pride of the Southland.