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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

That Ship has Sailed... Or Has It?

In less than a half hour, the calendar rolls over into July, and with it, the final pegs of realignment related to college football at the FBS level fall into place. Navy football will join the American Athletic Conference, completing the conference and leading to the inaugural conference championship game at the end of the season. Navy will compete in the Western division; while it's the geographical odd school out, I suppose if anyone should be misaligned, it should be the one that has their own planes. Selfishly, given my ties to Maryland, I look forward to USF playing in Annapolis with some frequency, though I'll miss this year's match - it takes place on Halloween and I have young kids. Further, it's sandwiched in between Eagles at Panthers and USF at East Carolina, both of which I'll be attending, making it an even tougher sell.

A few states south, Charlotte will be taking the step up into FBS as a full member of Conference USA. Interestingly enough, I last knew them as conferencemates in C-USA during my time at USF. Just as importantly, the 49ers will be fielding a marching band for the first time, a move intentionally delayed for FBS from their start as a program two seasons ago. The Pride of Niner Nation will hold their first band camp just over two months from now, stepping off in September as the Niners start their home slate.

With those two pieces falling into place, realignment has cooled down... or has it? Oklahoma president David Boren recently spoke up about the potential for the Big 12 to add two teams to return to 12, and naturally, as offseason frenzies go, everyone started dusting off their resumes. The American, left out in the cold from the power conferences with the latest round of realignment, seems the most anxious, with Memphis, UConn, Cincinnati, USF, and C. Florida all being names batted around, along with western powers like BYU and Boise State. We may soon learn if the carousel is up for another ride.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Earning their Stripes

A reminder from the Greensboro Coliseum that college
basketball is a religion.
The content here has always been simultaneously expansive and restrictive. The areas I cover, sports and marching/athletic music, provide a broad palette to discuss, and yet I have always intentionally restricted the topics here to those and directly related areas. It is for that reason that you've not heard me speak of Triad Stage, our local professional theater here in Greensboro, where my wife and I have been season pass holders for the better part of our decade here. Thankfully, through their current production of Common Enemy, I have occasion to speak on a place I love and an excellent performance that I recommend all within reach attend.

Written and directed by Triad Stage co-founder and artistic director Preston Lane, Common Enemy interprets Henrik Ibsen's Enemy of the People through the lens of North Carolina college basketball. The setting is the fictitious Zebulon College, a liberal arts institution in Hawboro, NC (NC is home to a Zebulon, a Haw River, and a host of 'boros); the time is the theater-nebulous "present day", though I suspect in the future that will need to be updated to the 2010s, a time where themes like Edward Snowden and college athletics are as polarizing as Duke-Carolina, liberal-conservative, and at Zebulon, home of the Zebras, black and white. Period pieces are often thought of as another period; it's odd to think that someday a dramaturg will be researching early 21st century North Carolina, but the setting is so masterfully played out that it has to be born of this soil.

The play follows the Zebulon Zebras as they compete in, and ultimately win, the Pioneer Conference tournament, sending them to the Big Dance for the first time in the institution's short stint in Division I. We meet their star player, athletic director, college president, and chair of the Board of Trustees, all gearing up for a journey with implications for more than just the athletic program. The added attention could differentiate Zebulon from other colleges of a similar profile in a time in higher education where the grab for scarce resources threatens institutions of various types. Many faculty are on board as well, but as some have seen first hand, there is often a tenuous relationship between college athletics and the institutions that support them. When a professor's research stands to derail everything, battle lines are drawn: Friend or foe, local or outsider, for us or again' us.

I work in higher education, and of course I follow sports, especially college sports, closely. I love college sports like I love scrapple - it's delicious, so long as I don't think too hard of what it's made of. Common Enemy addresses themes like payment of student athletes, students advancing academically on athletic prowess and little else, and systems that are in place to shield transgressions - minor and major alike - lest they threaten the almighty sport. Without the love - sometimes, even with it - it's hard not to make a case for shutting the whole thing down. Whether that's seen as rational or insane depends largely on the lens through which you view it.

The detail that ties this piece to the land is impeccable, but I wouldn't expect any less from North Carolina native Preston Lane, or from Triad Stage, a theater that among its core values lists "A Southern Voice." The description in the program places Hawboro precisely - along the Haw River on North Carolina's piedmont - and outlines what sort of BBQ (Lexington, if you're wondering) the joint in one of the scenes serves. Each character has his or her Duke-Carolina allegiance, and in one impassioned monologue, a native North Carolinian outlines the family ties and life experiences that make this more than just a game. The accents are distinct, and the relationships, born of convenience or of generations, are authentic. And while the themes are universal, perhaps my only criticism of this piece, should it go national - and I sincerely hope it does - is how it would play before audiences who, as one character is constantly reminded, "ain't from 'round here."

Common Enemy continues at Triad Stage through June 28. If this is at all within reach for you, treat yourself to an unforgettable night of live theater.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Abandon All Hope

Every year, Carolina Crown holds their preview before leaving for tour at their spring training site, Gardner-Webb University. Every year to this point, I'd thought the two and a half hour drive was a bit much to travel for one corps and one show.

This year, I made the trip.

It was a combo of sorts: My daughter's been itching to go camping. We have a KOA membership, and their Spartanburg/Gaffney campground is a half hour from Boiling Springs and also close to some friends of mine. So with that justification in hand, we folded the preview show into a great weekend.

The preview day started with a friends and family luncheon at the Gardner-Webb student center. They've got a beautiful campus, and naturally the higher ed nerd in me had to poke around a bit. We spent a bit of time on campus before heading over to the stadium, catching drumline and pit warmups before the show began.

As it's still the preseason, this was the earliest in any corps run I've seen them. It was strange hearing bumps in Crown's perennially perfect brass, but I was left with no doubt they'd iron those out. The show, Inferno, was as dark as I've ever seen Crown. As I quipped during the show, this isn't a Spirit of Disney award winner, unless we're talking the Night on Bald Mountain scene from Fantasia. It felt like a heel turn; I don't know that that's a bad thing, but it will take some getting used to coming from this corps. Still, their Ode to Joy ending felt like a drawn out Picardy third in an otherwise minor show.

I was particularly excited that Verdi's Dies Irae was a part of this show, as it's a piece I've played before. The runs will be sweet once the brass is in mid-season form, though I was hoping the trumpet trio would be included. there's some cool visual as well, including all of the brass being enshrouded in gossamer.

Ever since Crown's championship season and the #purplepantsband uniform change, the anticipation of the coming year's uniforms has been a story unto itself. The style has remained the same since that season, but the pants color and accents and accoutrements have changed with each season. While it's admittedly "get off my lawn"ish, I long for the days of the Cream Team. While I think this year's set goes well with the show theme, I'm also not the biggest fan of annual uniform changes, so unless they're going back cream, it's a story that doesn't hold my interest too heavily.

Between Crown's preview showand the DCI dress rehearsal available for free viewing online featuring the Troopers and Madison Scouts, my appetite is sufficiently whetted for the coming season. Assuming that Golden State puts away the NBA Finals in a few short minutes, as seems likely, there'll be a layoff of less than a day between the end of the NBA and the start of DCI. If we can get a bridge on the other side between DCI and college football, we'd be all set.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Around the World In...

There are a few things that come standard during the summer. On TV, you can expect reruns. In the football media and blogosphere, you can expect, as the summer doldrums drone on, the focus will turn to countdowns to the season. Here, we'll be doing a bit of both.

Sure, 100 is a nice round number, and a point where there's light (to the tune of three more months, but still) at the end of the tunnel. But here, for numbers congruence, let's start at the 20. We'll go 80 days for 80 minutes.

As I mentioned, this will be reruns, so don't expect a new post every day until the season begins. Instead, it'll be greatest hits: 80 posts from both sides of the college football and marching band fence. The series will run over on Twitter, so if you're not already following, now would be a great time to start - Monday, June 15 is 80 days out!

Expect new posts at 3pm Eastern.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


The basketball gods giveth, and the basketball gods taketh away.

The NCAA basketball rules committees have put forth their proposals for rules changes to men's and women's basketball. With an overarching theme of improving pace of play, some of these changes, if adopted, could have unintentional impact on the pep bands.

In the men's game, the proposal pares down the timeouts. There is one fewer team timeout in the second half, and any timeout taken within 30 seconds of a scheduled media timeout would serve as that timeout. Even moreso than halftime, timeouts are the primary currency of pep bands.

The proposal in the women's game changes not only the timeouts, but the structure of the game itself. A game would go from two 20 minutes halves to four 10 minute quarters. There would be one media timeout per quarter, but a called time out in the first five minutes of any quarter would serve that purpose. However, the women's game proposed one rule that addressed pep bands directly. And I quote:
In an effort to improve the overall fan experience, the committee recommended bands or amplified music may be played during any dead-ball situation. Current rules allow music to be played only during timeouts and intermission.
Word? I like it, even as I acknowledge that for practical application, it may not change too much. Many dead ball situations are after a made basket for just a moment before the ball is put back into play.This really only gives time for a cymbal crash or a short sting, but knowing it's available, pep bands could be creative in their repertoire, having short bits on cue for exactly that. And because those situations are typically short, an always ready band wouldn't have a problem boxing out the PA, whose operator may be hesitant to start the canned music for such a short time. Moreover, I'm pleased that when considering improving the fan experience, the pep bands were one of the things that came to mind.

Tryhard Trophy

The Tryhard Trophy of the moment goes to the University of Connecticut.

The American Athletic Conference - né Big East - was left with the island of misfit teams following the last round of realignment. When teams share a conference affiliation but no history, geography or other cultural markers, sometimes dumb things happen. And the latest dumb thing is UConn erecting a rivalry trophy with Central Florida.

Find it odd? Funny, so does their "rival."

UConn and C. Florida have played a total of twice, both as conferencemates in the American. Their record is 1-1; last year UConn stunned the Knights who apparently forgot to board the plane to Connecticut, handing them what has to date been their only conference loss in the American. Perhaps that win was why they started with Central Florida. I have to believe the conversation went something like this.

"Alright, youse guys, we need a rivalry game to get this fanbase fired up. Who ya got?"
"How about Boston College?"
*all glare, speaker shrinks in his chair*
"Hey, how about Central Florida, they were conference co-champs last year, and champs the year before. And we beat 'em!"
"I like it! What do we call it?"
"We're from the north, they're from the south, how about 'The Civil War?'"
"Whoawhoawhoa. You can just throw the word 'war' around in times like these. Besides, that name's already taken. But I like where you're head's at. What else?"
*pulls out thesaurus*
"How about 'Civil Conflict?'"
"I like it! It says 'we got beef' cuz it's a conflict. But it says 'cool it with the nonsense,' cuz we're civil, so maybe Warde won't get his tires slashed. Let's do it!"
"Hey, we just ordered participation trophies for my kid's little league team. Lemme see if they can work something up for us. We might get a discount."

And there you have it, the birth of a trophy game.

Except it's really, really dumb.

No seriously. I think UConn can find more of a reason for a rivalry with just about anyone else in the conference. There's at least a bit of conference longevity with USF and Cincinnati. With an ECU or Navy rivalry, you can at least play up the colonial or even nautical connection. Hell, play Houston for the George W. Bush trophy, at least that makes more sense than this. Frankly, your best bet may be lobbying for a soon-to-be-homeless UMass to join the conference and striking one up with them - it's even winnable. But if you're locked in with the idea of playing your rivalry game in Orlando every other year, fine. At least call a spade a spade and name it the Snowbird Trophy.

C'mon, Huskies. Even Central Florida's laughing at you.

Not All Right Now

Here we go again.

The Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band is suspended - in perhaps the most slap-on-the-wrist sense of the term - amid what's been called a "culture of drugs, alcohol, and hazing." The suspension entails the irreverent band not traveling to any away games or having alcohol at any band activities.

First: Given the findings, the nature of the suspension - which, by no accident, I'm sure, won't at all alter the product on the field during Stanford home games - seems absurd. But let's take a look at the hazing portion of this, because it disrupts a few lazy assumptions about hazing. First, hazing is an action taken by the dumb and brutish. Hazing is undoubtedly dumb, but that its perpetrators necessarily are - at least in the "traditional" measures of intelligence sense - is defied that the perps are Stanford students. Secondly, for those who believe hazing is a necessary means to an end - the negative reinforcement to get lines straight, stick heights consistent, and uniforms to pass inspection - Stanford is nonconformist by design. No, this hazing is deeply rooted in that which drives most hazing: Taking advantage of a desire to belong.

In a recent study of over 1,200 Division I marching band members, nearly 30% reported witnessing some form of hazing in their marching band experience. These number are, thankfully, lower than those who report the same in a study done about student organizations and athletic teams (participant n: > 11,000) but just as alarming. The culture is insidious wherever you find it.

And yet, in the college marching band, hazing may be more likely to go un- or lightly-punished. We saw this in the case of Ohio State's indiscretions uncovered last summer, and we see it here with Stanford, who as I mentioned, won't miss a single home game for situations that would likely get a fraternity or other student organization suspended. The tie to athletics is key here. In a different context, I'd be please to see that marching bands are seen as integral enough to the gameday experience to be protected, but not when it means standing idly by as a party to hazing. I'm not saying I want to see more bands lose field time. I'm saying I want fewer bands to haze. If that's what it takes, then so be it.
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