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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hit That Line

 It's fairly well documented that I'm no big fan of Maryland - College Park joining the Big Ten as one of the latest consequences of realignment. It makes no sense - the extraregionality, the cultural lack of fit, the marching band incongruence, and the fact that it tears asunder a conference tradition of more than 60 years. But all the while, there has been one small piece that has intrigued me: The possibility of a UMCP - Penn State rivalry.

The Big Ten's two latest additions - Rutgers being the other - had to have been at least in part with Penn State in mind. After all, the Nittany Lions are currently the conference's eastern outlier, the only school not located in the Midwest (though one could make the argument...) and, before gaining Nebraska in the most recent round of realignment, the newest member. Still, disputes between Pennsylvania and Maryland date back to before the founding of this country, and much as Kansas and Missouri hearkened back to history between the states in their rivalry (another casualty of realignment), Calvert and Penn's flagships would do well to do the same.

Full disclosure: I'm a nerd for the Mason-Dixon Line and all that comes with it. I hail from a state, Delaware, which owes all of its borders to Mason and Dixon's surveying. I jumped the line to get my undergraduate education in Maryland, and now reside in the south, considering proximity to the Line as a harbinger of home.

A little fuel was added to the fire of the not-yet rivalry, as Penn State hired as its head coach James Franklin, a former Terrapin assistant who was expected to be heir apparent to the head coaching position in College Park. Franklin instead headed south to Vanderbilt, but is now returning to the mid-Atlantic. He will no doubt be in some of the same living rooms in the region as Terps' head coach Randy Edsall.

All that said, it's very easy for Penn State and College Park to play up Cresap's War, the border dispute that led to the Mason-Dixon Line's formation, and in a conference that loves its rivalry trophies, present a crownstone to the victor. The two will meet annually as divisionmates in the Big Ten East, and with 200 miles between the two schools road tripping - if not "neutral" site games in Baltimore, Philadelphia, or Pittsburgh - seems obvious, especially when close conference trips are hard to come by.

Winning the Battle

For the first time in its 12 year history, the Honda Battle of the Bands crowned a champion. Historically the event is simply a showcase, highlighting 8-10 HBCU bands, but as meaningful as the event has been to the bandhead and HBCU community, there has never been a winner.

This year, through text voting, the folks who put on Honda determined a winner, recognized officially by the event. Until now, house, or crowd reaction, has been the unofficial tally of who went home with bragging rights. And while Honda had done text voting once before, never did the claim it was for anything more than entertainment purposes. This year, the fans determined Honda's winner, and the crown went to the Blue and Gold Marching Machine of North Carolina A&T. Here I sit in Greensboro hoping for a victory parade.

I don't know what they get to take home as the champions, or if winning gets them an automatic pass into next year's field. Regardless of what you think about the methods - it's true fan voting can be synonymous with popularity contest - it's what Honda chose to use, and those clad in blue and gold are beaming with Aggie Pride.

In related news: I've long half-joked about how instead of the Pro Bowl, the NFL should throw their resources behind the Honda Battle of the Bands, making it the official halftime of the championship stretch. While I'm sure this isn't anywhere close to happening, I realized I can make it for myself. Thanks to the quick cameras of the HBCU band YouTubesphere, while others were watching the Pro Bowl or the Grammys, I was able to immerse myself in what had just gone down in A-Town.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Semper ParAtUs

Semper Paratus. Always Ready. It's the motto of the United States Coast Guard, but it would be appropriate for any marching band.

Like a good defense, a marching band has to have their head on a swivel all game long. Indeed, an action from just such a defense can, in an instant, turn a band from watching an opposing offense to a horns up for the fight song. And while it was a special teams play, Auburn cornerback Chris Davis tested just how ready the Auburn University Marching Band was in the final play of the 2013 Iron Bowl.

True enough, the fight song was on tap anyway as the 4th quarter expired. But in the wake of one of college football's greatest finishes, 300-some of Auburn football's most ardent supporters had to have the presence of mind to channel unspeakable elation through their instruments, watch their drum major, and do precisely what they were there to do. Watching this excitement give way to duty is awesome.
I mentioned that it was a testament to the power of the play that I didn't even know what the band had done in that instant. All the credit in the world to Brazzell Video for capturing it, and special thanks to @JoshBrandfon and @BobbyBigWheel for sharing.

Friday, January 17, 2014

New Beginnings

This is typically one of my slowest times annually. College football is behind us, but I haven't yet fully embraced all that college hoops has to offer. I'm fresh off of the Big Band Bowl Battle, my largest undertaking here each year. Professionally, a new semester has begun, bringing all that comes with that.

This year, there's an additional wrinkle, and this one's a blessing. My son, Austin Taylor Tarver, joined us this past Saturday, January 11, just before 11pm. All are home and well!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Championship Halftime

Maybe the Worldwide Leader finally heard my pleas. Maybe the Rose Bowl's band-friendly policy helped push this through. Maybe the fact that there's just one last game and tons of affiliated networks made them cede the time. But whatever the reason, halftime of the national championship game will be available, in full, on ESPN Classic and ESPN3. Both the Marching Chiefs and Auburn University Marching Band's halftime shows will be viewable.

About a month ago, I saw this video, detailing the phenomenal work that goes into an NFL production.

ESPN seems to be outdoing themselves with all of the offerings they're putting forth for this game across their platforms. I'm confident they'll pour this level of attention into showing the halftime shows. After all, production notes at a practice would go a long way, and cameras won't have to anticipate play action passes, Auburn's read option, and rapid changes resulting from fumbles or interceptions. What each band rehearsed will be exactly what they will bring to halftime.

As you may expect, I find it pretty exciting. I'll be over on Twitter using the hashtag #whowonhalftime, and of course, as always, you can follow me at @80mins. See you at halftime!

The Best Damn Year

This is where magic happens.
If they're talking about you, you're doing something right, and they've been talking about The Ohio State Marching Band all season long.

The Best Damn Band in the Land was in the public eye for perhaps an unprecedented amount of time this year, based largely on the viral status of a couple of this year's halftime shows. This year's attention started with a moonwalking Michael Jackson, continued through Hollywood, and again with the Gettysburg Address. Millions of viewers later, Ohio State wrapped up their season at the Orange Bowl, but even non-band people will be waiting to see what comes next in future seasons. What made them so successful this year? I see a few key points:

  • Accessible shows. My stance has long been that marching shows should be programmed with the audience in mind, and if you're audience is there for a football game, that's who you should have in mind. This isn't me calling football fans dumb - Lord knows I am one - but if the bulk of your crowd doesn't know a diddle from doodoo and Shostakovich from sh - well you get the picture - then they will use the time to grab a beer or hit the restroom. My belief that Ohio State was doing it right was cemented as I watched this year's big shows with my two year old daughter in the room and she was telling me exactly what she was seeing. I'm not saying there's not a place abstract drill and original compositions, but know your audience.
  • Technology. Much was made about the fact that TBDBITL was using iPads instead of dot books to learn the drill. Add that to the use of drillwriting software, and it makes for efficient practice and makes drill less limited by the writer's own artistic limitations, resulting in some of the best animations I've ever seen.
  • Controlling their own distribution. The shows mentioned above garnered over 27 million views on YouTube - and each of those views were on official Ohio State conduits BuckeyeTV, OSUMB Videos, and the official University channel. In addition to counting those captive eyes, it also ensures that there is quality video available of each show. While there's a good chance that with over 100,000 assembled, someone's bot a good cell phone video, but why risk it when you can put it out yourself?
  • Being true to their own style. I've got friends who are fans/former HBCU marchers who gave Ohio State the sideeye for doing what HBCUs have done for years. While this is true, it's not a case of cultural appropriation - save that for the bands playing Neck. No, the fact that the Big Ten and HBCUs both exemplify traditional marching keeps their style closer to one another than to most corps style groups. While this may steal some HBCU shine, it's not because it stole their style; it has far more to do with the fact that Ohio State is a household name.
Ohio State has long been on the map with those who follow marching bands, but this year in particular, they made an even bigger splash. In the coming season, I'm sure some will be watching for more than just Script Ohio.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

What Does the Fox Say

Tonight, college football features two major bowl games with starkly different halftime philosophy. The Cotton Bowl, on Fox, actually gets a portion - albeit small - of both bands' halftime shows televised. The Orange Bowl continues its tradition of having a recording artist perform during halftime, keeping both bands off the field. The Orange Bowl's foolish tradition isn't the only culprit though; if the marching bands got field time they'd likely never get air time on the Worldwide Leader. So how did Fox become the unlikely champion of the band? Here's how it happened, near as I can tell.

Years ago, Fox bid on the BCS and was awarded the contract, bringing every BCS bowl except for the Rose Bowl (and the national championship when hosted there) to their network from the 2006-2009 seasons. It represented a major leap into televising the college game for a network that previously showed only the Cotton Bowl. Fox had to do something to differentiate its product from the NFL it was accustomed to televising. Meanwhile, the one bowl that the ESPN family of networks retained, the Rose Bowl contractually obligates the network to show part of halftime. Fox, a new player in the game, had to keep up with the Joneses, and while I can't speak for their previous Cotton Bowl coverage, I know that they announced with intention that they would show halftime as part of their coverage.

Four years later, when ESPN resumed the BCS and nearly all of the bowls, I was hopeful that they may retain that tradition, though it didn't surprise me that they didn't. Today, the Cotton Bowl remains the only Fox bowl and one of two not on the ESPN family of networks, and while the time the spend on halftime is brief, I'm glad it's still there.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Rent A Band

Yesterday, the University of Arizona Wildcats football team notched a victory over Boston College in the Advocare V100 (formerly Independence) Bowl in Shreveport, LA in front of their fans, Boston College fans, and likely folks from the community who saw fit to attend the game. But one entity was conspicuously absent: The Pride of Arizona Marching Band. Where they would have sat, the Northwestern State University Demon Band, clad in Arizona's blue and red, took their place, the band-for-hire that day.

To be honest, my kneejerk reaction was vitriol towards the University of Arizona for not valuing their band enough to send them, but I realize it's not necessarily that simple. Arizona was filling a spot in this bowl, so while it's possible they made every possible consideration for Pac-12 bowls, this simply came outside of what they had planned for. Shreveport is farther from Tucson the nearly every Pac-12 bowl, and its airport is smaller than any of their tie-ins, both of which add considerable expense. Arizona's basketball team is #1 in the nation, potentially diverting resources from the athletic department and/or the football program. It's even possible that a bowl game was not a prerequisite for band participation and they simply wouldn't have enough members to travel. So while it's likely a black mark on the Arizona's athletic program, that's not necessarily so.

That said, it does seem to be a harbinger of what could become a more prevalent problem. Consider this: With the impending playoff, schools could be responsible for sending their band - not a cheap endeavor, mind you - to a conference championship game, a semifinal, and hopefully, a national championship game. Let's use as an example the 2014 Big Ten champion. That school would travel first to Indianapolis, then to either Pasadena or  New Orleans, depending on seeding, and finally to Arlington. Mind you, there would be a week and a half turnaround between the semifinal and final games. ACC Champ is looking at Charlotte-Pasadena/NO-Arlington; and Heaven forbid a smaller conference school somehow crack the top four. It makes for a daunting task for athletic departments. At least those in the playoff are less likely to face a losing proposition for their bowl tickets, but it still doesn't come cheap.  What's more, the decreased emphasis on non-playoff bowls, especially for those who just miss the playoff, may make them a harder sell for fans and more of a financial burden on athletic departments.

I don't think it's unreasonable to predict more "rent-a-band" situations, and I don't like it. While it's nice that some bands that would never otherwise get a bowl game experience - Northwestern State competes at the FCS level -  the point isn't to have a band present, it's to have your band present. While I'm confident the Demon Marching Band performed admirably, it simply isn't the same as having your band, a slice of your gameday experience, there. Students in the band of the competing school lose out on a great road trip opportunity, and I'd wager even the stand-in band doesn't get all of the benefits of bowl game participation. It sends an incomplete unit into competition and cheapens the experience for the team and fans, no matter how good the stand-in band is. I know there are many moving parts at play as college football's landscape continues to evolve, but I hope this is one that was considered.
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