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Monday, February 17, 2014

Within the Rules

On an annual basis, most organizations look at the rules that govern them and examine if they continue to be relevant. In DCI, a recent rule change will add previously prohibited brass instruments to the potential palate this coming summer. In college football, a current proposal, supported, if not spearheaded, by Alabama coach Nick Saban and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, seeks to slow down the game. The proposal, which would limit advantages gained by uptempo offenses, would require teams to allow at least 10 seconds of the playoff to allow for defensive substitutions.

What do these two proposals have in common? Innovation, in one form or another. There are two ways one can innovate: One is to work within the rules as structured, and the other is to work to change the rules. Both of these aim for the latter, but while DCI's proposal offers more tools with which to innovate, the proposal before college football seeks only to stifle that which others have taken advantage of within the rules. In DCI, new opportunities will come in the form of new instruments, with new voices and visuals potentially coming in the form of trombones, french horns and sousaphones. While I don't mind this change, I said with the addition of electronics that I consider this less innovative than if they weren't in the mix. I'm more impressed if you can give me the feel of a helicopter using your battery rather than pulling up a sampled helicopter on a keyboard.

In college football, offenses have been giving us the battery-operated helicopter by using the play clock to their advantage. The new proposal would return balance - or advantage, depending on who you ask - to the opposing defense. Simply put it looks to curtail innovation by managing one of the elements that offenses can truly take advantage of: Their own clock management.

In each case, the rule change aims to gain traction by latching itself to something that the association holds near and dear. In DCI, the claim is that the new proposal gives corps the opportunity to educate a different kind of student, and creates a more inclusive environment. In the NCAA, player safety is the nebulous clarion call. The thing is, both have been refuted, either anecdotally or empirically. Musicians who play currently prohibited brass (or - gasp - woodwinds!) but seek the drum corps experience are forced to learn a new instrument. Many have, and performed at very high levels. How's that for education? And the College Football Matrix ran the numbers with regards to faster offensive play leading to more injuries, and the results may (or may not) surprise you.

I'm not claiming to be against change here; in many cases I support it, and in each association, there are rules proposals I'm fully behind - the Entertainment Effect caption in DCI (reportedly tweaked and being voted upon at a later date) and the removal of the 15 yard penalty from reversed targeting ejections. But if your goal is innovation, be sure you're on the right side of the fence.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Keys to the Game

All-Star games aren't always my thing, but the NBA All-Star Game has always had a certain swagger about it. Even when I don't watch the game, I'm always at least abreast of what is going on. Maybe it's the attention surrounding the Dunk Contest - even when lackluster. Maybe it's All-Star weekend's reputation as the Black Super Bowl. But this evening, I had a reason to turn in.

It started with ESPN's Bomani Jones giving props to the organist on Twitter, and several others chiming in. I tuned in at the top of the 4th quarter and was similarly impressed. The All-Star organist, who I've come to learn is Sir Foster (on Twitter @Sir_Foster), the house organist for the Atlanta Hawks, is giving us range, from the latest pop hits, to hip hop classics, to the in-game standards. He's playing the role of the band that gives us Hey (Rock and Roll Pt. II) and Hay (In the Middle of the Barn). And on at least one occasion, he acknowledged his Twitter fame, calling his shot to Jones before hitting us with the Ying Yang Twins.

I use the term "marching/athletic music" by design. While "marching arts" covers marching band, corps, and guard, marching/athletic music speaks specifically to the fact that the music is used in an athletic context. Pep band is a big piece of that picture as well, and while I may not have previously considered it, so are NBA organists. The ability to enhance the game experience through music is a thread that runs through them all. The difference is, most NBA organists remain relatively anonymous. I'm glad that this All-Star performance is getting Sir Foster his props. As I type this, Kyrie Irving was just named the MVP, but here, I'm giving the organist some.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Home Away From Home 2015

A 2015 USF football season full of advantageous road games is still in play.

I haven't been to a home game at my dear alma mater since Homecoming 2007, but I have had the pleasure of catching them on the road a few times. A certain perfect storm could put nearly all of USF's road games on accessible turf for me.

Let's start with what we know. USF's out of conference road games are at College Park and at Florida State. College Park's a given, with family in Maryland and DC. And as long as schedules and resources allow, I can see me and my buddy James road tripping down to Tallahassee for the game at FSU.

While we don't know the conference schedule, the recently released 2014 schedule may provide a clue. ECU travels to Tampa in 2014, so chances are good that if we see the Pirates in 2015, it will be in Greenville, just across the state from me. We miss Temple in 2014, as we did in 2013, so there's a good chance they rotate back onto our schedule for 2015, and if the game's in Philly, it's right up the road from my parents. And finally, we could see Navy up in Annapolis in their first year in the conference.

It would be the perfect storm having ECU, Temple, and Navy all on the road in one season, and frankly, I'm not sure it's one I want. The American hasn't shown its hand yet as far as divisional structure; with the spread of the teams, they could go North/South, East/West, or random a la Atlantic/Coastal or Leaders/Legends. If they go East/West, which I'd prefer, ECU, Temple, and Navy are all divisionmates. If we'll see them each every year, I'd rather some split in the home/away rotation to ensure I've got at least one accessible game every year. With a North/South split, they're all in the other division, which means there's a very slim chance we get them all in the same year and no chance they're all on the road.

Regardless of which way the schedule breaks for 2015, it's looking like from that year and beyond it will be favorable for travel for yours truly.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Big Brass Set

Soon, the Crossmen may not be the only corps to feature Bones.

At the Winter Meetings Rules Congress, Drum Corps International accepted a proposal that will allow any manner of brass instrument to participate in corps. Gone is the bell front restriction, and organizations are welcome to include trombones, upright baritones, sousaphones, french horns, and whatever other manner of brass instruments, foreign and domestic, they choose to incorporate. It's the biggest instrumentation change in DCI since the last one, which was... well, just five seasons ago, when electronics joined us for the first time.

There are two angles from which one can look at this and really any rules change: 'why' and 'why not'. The loudest opponents will likely point to the slippery slope argument: As each passing rule change pushes the activity to scholastic band, it's only a matter of time before the vile specter that is woodwinds pokes its nose underneath the tent. And then: Chaos! The death of the activity as we know it! The same death that occurred when we forwent G bugles, increased numbers from 135 to 150, added electronics, mic'ed soloists, etc. etc. etc. I will grant that I remain pro acoustic instrumentation, would not mind a return to G bugles, and most certainly do not want woodwinds in drum corps (for reasons I've written about before) but I also believe folks get a little too doomsday about it.

The why not argument may too center around perceived woodwind creep: Why not add these instruments? At least it keeps it in the brass family and doesn't change the color too drastically. Some may see it as a small concession if it keeps reeds at bay.

I'm relatively agnostic as to the change, but my thought is this: with relatively little change in color - trombone glissandi are perhaps the most obvious addition - the decision whether to include previously unused instruments becomes an aesthetic one. My personal preference is the drum corps imagery I'm used to: Dozens of brass bells pointed at me like artillery, with a uniformity that may only be interrupted should trombone slides and french horns enter the fray. That being said, if it's merely a stylistic choice, then we are, in essence, opening up the visual effect palate. Guards are no longer limited to simply flags, rifles, and sabers, so if the overall vision prefers sousaphones to contras, who am I to argue? It's a little less drum corps as we know it and a little more Ohio State, but last I checked, they're doing alright for themselves in the marching arts.

All in all, we'll talk a whole lot about it in the weeks and months to come, but I'm looking cautiously forward to seeing how the change manifests itself come summer.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Let's Talk Championships

Maybe waiting around until after the Super Bowl will help disguise the fact that I'm tragically late in talking about the BCS Championship? No?

In all seriousness, I'm here to talk BCS, a month later (ICYMI, a recent addition is part of what has waylaid me) though I may include a bit about the Super Bowl and the Honda Battle of the Bands as well.

So way back in January, they played a little game in college football's perfect venue to end a certain imperfect system that'll give way to another. If I were the bandwagon sort, I'd have every reason to claim FSU - after all, since graduation, I've been to just as many FSU games as USF ones, but instead I'll just fall back and be glad they won, especially for my FSU alumni friends.

ESPN may have outdone themselves with the megacast. I'm sure it comes as a surprise to no one that I loved the availability of the halftime show, though I hear a couple of folks got jobbed by ESPN Classic. The Worldwide Leader mentioned that halftime performances would be available on ESPN Classic, and while they were, they maintained the commercial breaks the other channels took. Luckily, I watched on ESPN3 and caught both shows, uninterrupted in their entirety. And while I'm confident they could have done a better job with the coverage, the spider cam was a decent view.

Yes, FSU ended the SEC's BCS reign, but that should come of little comfort. After all, at least some folks living vicariously through the SEC chant are really simply reliving the Civil War and touting the South's football superiority. A championship heading to Tallahassee is functionally no different than one headed to Tuscaloosa, Gainesville, or Auburn. In fact, a few sobering facts for us Yankees: Ohio State is the only consensus northern school to have won a BCS championship. Only three others - Nebraska, Oregon, and Notre Dame - have competed for one. So while the Seminoles' victory took the championship out of the hands of one conference, it didn't change the geographical picture a bit.

In other championship news: The Super Bowl was one of the most boring I can recall, in just about every aspect, the blowout score and lackluster commercials being the most obvious. Even Bruno Mars' halftime show, while expertly performed, lacked the spectacle typically associated with a Super Bowl halftime show. And while I love the Red Hot Chili Peppers, they may have been better served to decline rather than serve as an undercard and be invited only to perform one of their earlier singles from two decades ago.

Finally, Honda: Not only was A&T the champion via fan voting, but an expert panel on the Marching Podcast had them of the consensus #1 as well. Of note was the fact that the Blue and Gold Marching Machine switched their style up, giving us a bit of corps style culminating in a Cadets-style company front. Meanwhile, the discussion also addressed the fact that Bethune-Cookman, while talented as always, put forth a predictable performance that just seemed to be going through the motions. This made me think a few things: First, BCU is no longer penciling in a Honda appearance in January; they're writing it in pen. After all, the Marching Wildcats were on their 4th straight trip this year and have to all but three in the event's 12 year history. The trip from Daytona to Atlanta may seem less an honor and more business as usual. Secondly, with their archrival, the FAMU Marching 100, in a weakened state following their suspension, might some of the fire be lacking from the Wildcats? Whatever the reason, they didn't get the strongest marks. In a pretty solid second place, though, were the Marching Maroon and White of Alabama A&M. They'll meet up with the Blue and Gold Marching Machine in Orlando this coming season - the two are the participants in the 2014 MEAC/SWAC Challenge.
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