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Monday, June 30, 2014

Free Agency

In a few minutes, when the calendar turns to July 1 and the latest round of realignment becomes reality, I become a major college football free agent. While this was functionally the case when football ended in January (or earlier, when the 2013 iteration of USF football's die was cast), shortly the future - the one with little hope for teams in the "other" five conferences - becomes the present.

True enough, I have a few rooting interests I could call in if I were truly shopping. Of late, I've followed FSU more than any other team, and I've been to as many Seminoles games since graduating from USF as Bulls games. Of course, there's always the Terps, having been educated in the University System of Maryland, though my feelings towards their conference move are well-documented. Having lived in NC for nearly a decade, I could even pick a local team here. But I've never been the type to just pick a fandom. I will, of course, remain a Bulls fan, but this leaves my cupboard bare as far as major conference teams are concerned.

And frankly, I welcome it. While I'll have my likes and dislikes, my weekly college football landscape, nationally speaking, will be uncolored by how my team fares in it. I certainly won't love the sport any less, and I may be a well-rounded view. And, of course, the imminent realignment lets me share turf with a new(/old) conference foe here in NC - the ECU Pirates. It's a new day.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Emphasis on the Uni

I hinted when highlighting Carolina Crown's recent uniform changes that I liked the uniforms as much as I can like the current iteration of Crown uniforms, and that that was another post for another time. This is that time; this is that post.

To be frank, I don't like the new breed of uniforms, and I'm rather averse to some of the drastic changes taking place, particularly this season. My reason is this: Just as uniforms - one form - are designed to give a cohesive look to the corps in the field, I believe that they ought to also tie the present version of the corps to its past. The recent Carolina Crown reboot - and I realize this isn't their first - is a complete departure from the cream-clad corps they had been in the recent past. The last few years in cream bore minor changes, including a difference in accent colors, that didn't bother me at all. These at least kept the overall look, while last year's change, and this year's hue adjustment, completely threw previous styles out of the window. If I may damn with faint praise, I am at least glad that this year's uniform is cohesive with last year's. If they would have switched back to cream last year, my perception would have been that they switched to dark pants for one year - a championship year - to mask sloppiness in the legs. At least they're doubling down on their decision.

While Crown hits closest to home, they are not the only offender. Santa Clara Vanguard, my other favorite corps, has largely departed from their traditional look, donning white tops for this year's Scheherezade program. Madison Scouts too went with all white for the summer. Still in both of those cases, the uniform style is a relative constant. and the color change is to a neutral one that is already or has previously been part of the corps' palate. This year - or more accurately, last year - only Crown provided that level of whiplash in uniform design.

Perhaps my issue comes from following marching/athletic music like a sports fan. While certainly there have been major changes in uniform and even color scheme for pro and college teams, they happen far less frequently. Continuity makes for ease of support - even if I'm not in team/corps merchandise, I can throw on green in support of the Cavaliers or light blue to represent Spirit of Atlanta. While uniform changes don't change this manner of support, color changes certainly do. I could cynically point out that the switch from #purplepantsband to the #spacepantsband in blue leads to more merchandise sales, but I don't know that that's a driving force. I think the design team just thinks it makes sense creatively, and while it may, I think it dilutes a potential branding opportunity.

But what do I know? Maybe I'm quickly becoming a corps curmudgeon (because you know, I'm "pro acoustic instrumentation" too). Now get off my lawn.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mass Appeal

If marching bands moved the needle with regards to conference realignment, UMass wouldn't be on the brink of homelessness.

Currently the Minutemen are a football-only member of the MAC, playing all of their other sports in the Atlantic-10. UMass will only play football in the conference through the 2015 season, and so far, there's no telling where their next home is. A recent callup from the FCS ranks, the Minutemen have gone a combined 2-22 over two seasons as full FBS members, not making them particularly attractive for potential conference suitors.

When the clock stops mid-game, however, it's a different story. UMass is the only FBS program (besides Notre Dame) with a Sudler Trophy not currently in a major conference. That should make them attractive, if such a thing mattered. The band is also home to the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy, one of the nation's premier camps for drum majors. If that's not a solid recruiting advantage, I don't know what is.

UMass' struggles to find a home underscore both the lack of college football options in the Northeast and the hierarchy that exists even among the non-power conferences. The best competitive fit for the Minutemen is likely the Sun Belt, typically regarded among the bottom of all FBS conferences. But the Sun Belt, as the name implies, doesn't have a single team above the 37th parallel; a team from Massachusetts simply isn't a good fit. Conference USA and the Mountain West are similarly geographic disconnects. The only non-power FBS conference with a team based in New England is the American, and while Commissioner Mike Aresco hasn't ruled it out entirely, it's clear that UMass, especially their football program, isn't a good fit. The American, after all, considers itself the top of the heap of the also-ran conferences. It looks like for not, the search will continue for the Minutemen and the Power and Class of New England.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Crying for the Dolphins

Darius Rucker's in the stadium somewhere
While some celebrities change sports interests to whoever's convenient at the moment, others wear their teams on their sleeves, leaving no doubt about who they support. We learned in one of Hootie and the Blowfish's first singles that the Dolphins made Darius Rucker cry, and his allegiance to his alma mater, the University of South Carolina, can never be questioned.

I'll be honest, I'm honoring Darius Rucker as part of Black Music Month in equal parts accuracy and defiance. While the US doesn't go as far as Germany's "Black Charts" in naming music genres, there is a fairly clear belief for some that "black music" only comprises a handful of genres - rap, R&B, reggae and gospel these days, and from generations past, soul, jazz, funk, and for those who know their history, rock and roll. But excluding a black man making music, regardless of genre, seems to me to go against the spirit of the celebration.

Rucker's career has had a few seasons before the current one. We first came to know of him as the frontman for mid-90s rock group Hootie and the Blowfish. The appeal of his sound was undeniable then. After the bright lights faded on the band, Darius Rucker went solo - first as an R&B singer. While I recall the image at the time (I believe there was a soul patch involved) and seem to recall having sought out a song or two, I couldn't give you a highlight from that phase of his career. In 2008, when he returned to the airwaves as a country singer, anyone who remembered the voice from the Hootie and the Blowfish days realized how much sense that made. Since then, he has collected his share of awards and recognitions and met or exceeded the career he had back in the '90s.

The SportsCenter-themed video for I Only Wanna Be With You only introduced us to the role that sports plays for Rucker. He has since gone on to represent this passion in numerous ways, including guest picking (his Gamecocks, of course) on College GameDay and singing the National Anthem at various sporting events. He's also close with professional golfer Tiger Woods.

If you've not had the pleasure of a Darius Rucker live show, treat yourself. I was fortunate enough to catch him on tour a few years ago with Rascal Flatts; in addition to his new material, he dipped back to the Hootie and the Blowfish days, gave us a few covers, and brought the house down unapologetically wailing on Prince's Purple Rain in front of a country music crowd. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hart Foundation

There will be a familiar band on hand to play Michael Strahan into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer - the Ocean of Soul from his alma mater, Texas Southern University. Helping them along on their trip is an able, if not unlikely benefactor: Actor and comedian Kevin Hart. Hart, who appears to have no formal ties to Texas Southern, pledged $50,000 towards the band's travel on the Tom Joyner Morning Show.

This won't be the Ocean of Soul's first appearance on one of pro football's biggest stages. They also performed during halftime of the Super Bowl in 2004, though it was the same halftime that featured the world's most famous wardrobe malfunction, so their performance with the University of Houston's Cougar Marching Band is easily forgotten.

Kevin Hart's gift is worthy of nothing but praise, but knowing that Kevin Hart and I share something in common - being fans of the Philadelphia Eagles - I have to poke just a little fun: Kevin, you remember Strahan spent his entire career with the Giants, right?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Hail to the...

There's another chapter in the controversy surrounding the name of Washington's football team. During the NBA Finals, the National Congress of American Indians aired this ad:

Earlier this week, the US Patent Office canceled the "Redskins" trademark, citing its offensive nature. If the ruling is upheld - it's headed to appeal now - it could damage Dan Snyder and the team's ability to make money off of products and merchandise bearing the previously trademarked images.

I had a post in me some time ago with a list of potential team names that I've since lost. I do have some things to say about the matter though, and I'll go about it as a conversation with myself.

You haven’t said anything until now?
I haven’t cared much, and this is because I’ve had the luxury not to care much. Ain’t privilege grand? This isn’t to say only Natives need to care about the team’s name - in fact, quite the opposite. But it is we, as non-Natives, who have the luxury to not care.

How is the Government going to force them to change?! 
That’s not what’s taking place. The Patent Office has ruled that Redskins cannot be held as a trademark because of its offensive nature. This does not force - implicitly or explicity - Dan Snyder to change the name, though it may make it less lucrative for him not to. And before you go blaming this on Obama’s America, the same conclusion was reached in 1999 (under, granted, Clinton’s America, for the right-wing folks) but the ruling was thrown out due to procedure.

Why not the same ire for the Indians, Chiefs, Braves, Blackhawks, Seminoles, or Illini? 
The difference I draw is that each of those names is simply self-evident. There are still problems with some, and I put Chief Wahoo’s smilin’ Sambo visage at the top of the list, but I don’t see the names as definitively problematic. Redskins on the other hand, is a slur. In fact, if you believe one interpretation - it’s actually a synecdoche - the actual Red Skin was the scalp of a slain Native given forth for bounty. To this end, as much as folks like to make the comparison with other slurs, perhaps a more apt parallel would be a team called the Atlanta Lynch Mob - a harsh reminder of the nation’s brutal history with a particular ethnic group.

But what about the Fighting Irish? 
This MAY be the most apt parallel; while Fighting Irish doesn’t originate in a slur, the stereotype used here is evident. My two main criticisms here are these: One is that while the Irish have been an oppressed group throughout much of American history, they are, at present, fairly mainstreamed as “white”. The second is an in-group, out-group difference. UNC Pembroke, an institution began to educate a Native population who still largely serves the same, maintains the moniker Braves with pride. The Fighting Irish, similarly, adopted the nickname amidst a large Irish Catholic population at the institution.

Not all Native Americans are offended! 
Not all of anyone agrees on any one thing. Funny how that works. Further, just because one is a participant in one’s own oppression doesn’t change its nature.

The Redskins have a long and storied tradition under that name that dates back to 1933!
You know who has a storied tradition that dates back a good deal longer? The indigenous people of this continent. It could be said in either case that the brightest days for each are in the past; in only one case is this tragic.

All of that said, I will say this: If I were Dan Snyder (and income aside, I thank my lucky stars that I'm not) I'd double down and dig my heels in. The way I see it, there's a core of Redskins fans who feel the franchise was wronged and/or want to buy the authentic merchandise and will not patronize the undercutters. Add to that folks who will come out of the woodwork to buy Redskins gear on principle, like those who supported Chick Fil-A amidst boycotts, and I think Snyder will be just fine.

Monday, June 16, 2014

City Colors

First look at Carolina Crown 2014,
courtesy of @DCIfan14
Last night, the reigning Drum Corps International world champions, Carolina Crown, held their preview show which was shown live online via Fan Network. Corps fans were excited to see what the 2014 program would hold, but there was similar fervor around what the new uniforms the champs would be wearing. After all, the corps had undergone a major change the year prior, changing from the cream uniforms that had accompanied their rise to prominence to becoming last year's #purplepantsband - clad in purple bottoms and a black top with a bold orange stripe and non-conventional hat. We were teased with the top and its stripe, now light blue, on the drum majors - who wear black pants - before the big reveal of the uniform as a whole.

The style mimics that of last year, and at first glance, I thought the pants were Carolina - as in Tar Heel - blue. A second look led me to realize that the shade was actually far closer to Crown's fellow Charlotte-area denizens, the Carolina Panthers. A cool synergy, I thought, until I saw the instrumentalists and the guard members together, pictured here.

Buzz City is back.

If you follow the NBA or are anywhere in North Carolina (and I'd imagine South Carolina as well), you're aware that through some shifting of mascots and rights, the team now formerly known as the Charlotte Bobcats will don the teal and purple worn in Charlotte until 2002, when the Hornets moved to New Orleans. There has been considerable buzz (yes, I know) surrounding a team that by and large elicited good feelings, spirit, and Starter jacket sales from the Charlotte populace. Given the considerable attention paid to the team's return, there's no way Crown didn't know what they were doing when picking these colors for their uniform. And frankly, as much as I can get behind the current iteration of Crown uniforms (I think that'll be another post for another time), I'm all for it. Perhaps they'll even connect with some casual fans in the area caught up in the local zeitgeist.

This isn't the first time a corps will intentionally invoke the local fanbase. A few years ago the Cascades added the lime green shade that appears in the uniforms of both the Seattle Seahawks and the Seattle Sounders. And while corps don't change colors often, if you are going to switch it up, you might as well go with something that gibes well with the locals.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hay in the Middle

At a time when the eyes of hip hop were fixed firmly on one coast or the other, Crucial Conflict emerged, if only briefly, from the Midwest with 1996's hit single Hay.

Crucial Conflict certainly wasn't the first rap act from the Midwest, but at the time, everyone in my consciousness was there because of their association with one coast or the other. Their fellow Chicagoan Da Brat was in impressario Jermaine Dupri's SoSoDef camp; Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, out of Cleveland, were proteges of NWA member Eazy E; even Common rose to prominence because of a feud with the West Coast. It would be years still before Eminem would rise from Dr. Dre's camp or Nelly and the St. Lunatics would put St. Louis on the map. When Hay hit the radio airwaves, it would embody a bounce many would probably now associate with the south.

Were it not for the south, and specifically the HBCU marching bands nearly exclusively located there, Crucial Conflict may be just another one hit wonder lost in the annals of time. But Hay has become a mainstay in the stands, giving Crucial Conflict notoriety well beyond the radio shelf life of the song. Hay hasn't yet become the crossover hit that Neck is; while a few PWI bands play it, it remains near exclusively in the HBCU band realm. Still, with just about everyone having an arrangement nearly two decades later, Crucial Conflict - or at least their biggest hit - is unlikely to fade from memory any time soon.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Playoff Field Show

If they make it to Jerryworld,
will they get to leave the stands?
In the two years since we learned of college football's impending playoff, we've learned a lot about what to expect come January. We've met the selection committee. We've learned the playoff format and locations. We know how polling will be done. And yet, one major detail has not yet been discussed in public.

Who will play halftime?

I wish this weren't even a question, that we could take for granted that the marching bands of the two competing schools would perform midway through the championship game. But ever since the guys on The College Football Athenaeum suggested that the championship game may look to go a Super Bowl-esque route and forego marching bands in favor of a major recording artist, my blood ran cold and I've been emphatically and evangelically in favor of what I deem a proper college football halftime show.

It is neither secret nor surprise that I hold this viewpoint, but much like my belief in a championship parade, this goes farther than my own band nerd tendencies. The championship game should be not only the culmination of a season but the quintessence of what we celebrate about the sport, and that includes its pageantry. The Super Bowl will always be the Super Bowl, and over-the-top halftime shows have always been part of their model, even in the beginning where such shows included marching bands. To seek to emulate this would cast college football not as a distinct brand of the same sport, but as the minor league, the little brother of the big show in town. To start the playoff era on the right foot, start it by stepping off on the left with a marching band halftime show.

Black Music Month

Yesterday began June, and with it Black Music Month. Established by President Carter in 1979 and renamed African American Music Appreciation Month by President Obama (but I'll stick to Black Music Month, as many have, thanks) the month seeks to commemorates the innumerable contributions to the American music landscape made by black artists.  I think just about every year, "Hey, I'm a black guy, and I write a blog that is at least in part about music. I should do something for Black Music Month!" The thing is, I tend to think this on or around July 1. This year I'm actually on my game, and I will run at least a handful of features linking black music to sports and marching/athletic music.

I will first turn the spotlight to an HBCU Marching Band, Florida A&M's Marching 100. While FAMU's dark recent past is well documented, their contributions to marching/athletic music are undeniable. The Marching 100, largely under the direction of director William P. Foster for over half a century, were the gold standard of all marching bands - not just HBCU bands - and set the bar high for all, not the least of whom being themselves as they rebuild from tragedy. The 100 were also the first, and to date the only HBCU band to win the Sudler Trophy.

The Marching 100 are seen here marching in President Obama's inugural parade in 2009. This was not their first, as they appeared in both of President Clinton's parades. The 100 were also not the only black college band in the parade of America's first black president, as they were joined in march by Delaware State's Approaching Storm, Hampton's Marching Force, Howard's Showtime, and Grambling's World-Famed Tiger Marching Band, as well as a number of historically black high school bands.

Read more about the Marching 100 from 80 Minutes of Regulation here.

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