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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Bracketed In

Whether attending games live or longing for the fleeting glimpses of pep bands while watching the NCAA basketball tournament, you may have noticed a certain uniformity in the bands. While every band has their own look, style, and swag, they've all got one thing in common: No more than 29 members. Tournament rules cap the number of band members that can attend, which presents a challenge for larger bands, especially those that hail from schools where basketball, not football, is the banner sport. The NCAA also forbids electronic instruments, meaning that bands who may feature electric guitars, basses, and keyboards in their own arena have to leave those instruments - and often those players - home.

The folks over at College Marching have begun a petition to change this, increasing the number of players from 29 to 40, and including electronics. I could honestly go 50, but regardless, I'm 100% behind the proposal. Why cap it at all? I see two key reasons: The first is sheer arena logistics. As important as the bands are, their interests need to be balanced with paid butts in seats. The other is that a standardized number prevents a David vs. Goliath in the stands between the two bands sitting 94 feet apart. Some bands have more resources - a marching band, a large student body - that allow them to put dozens if not hundreds of students into the stands. Limits ensure the band under the other basket can stack up. That said, much in the manner I believe any athletic director should plan to send the marching band to any postseason football, they should also plan to send the pep band - whatever iteration of it plays in your home arena - to the conference and NCAA tournaments. If that number exceeds the cap, the additional players can add to your student cheering section, and hopefully get the chance to play behind the starters if the team advances.

My stance on electronics may surprise some who know I'm pro-acoustic instrumentation, but marching band and pep band, while related, are different worlds. A pep band's form and instrumentation may be that of a marching band, a jazz combo, or anywhere in between, so a rhythm section featuring keys, bass and guitar is entirely within bounds. I even love to see some of the more unorthodox instruments like electrics strings. In college, I remember going to the NEC tournament in the year that our pep band added an electric bass player. She had been a hit at home, but we learned only after we got to the tourney site that her amp wasn't welcome as part of our ensemble. Imagine playing in support of your team all season long only to learn that on the biggest stage, you've been sidelined. Pep bands are already miked in the tournament; including electronic instruments won't change the profile in that regard.

Few would argue that the men's basketball tournament is the highest profile event the NCAA does from year to year. It's time to get more their "one shining moment." If you agree, join me in signing the petition to #ExpandTheBand.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Tournament Town 2016

A video posted by 80 Minutes of Regulation (@eightyminutes) on

First, as a matter of housekeeping: You can now follow on Instagram @eightyminutes. This'll be all 80 Minutes of Regulation, all the time, so on the off-chance that you've followed @80mins, you can still see my adorable kids, but it's not your best place for marching/athletic music and sports.
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This week, the ACC Men's Basketball tournament is in Washington DC, thumbing its nose at College Park, but last week, the women's tournament was at home here in Greensboro. I made it out to most of Friday's action, including some mascot night festivities with my daughter, and I caught three games, six teams, and, of course, six pep bands. Oh, you forgot why I was there?

Having not yet been to a women's hoops game this season, there were a few rule changes I hadn't yet seen play out. Prior to this season, the women's game went to four 10 minutes quarters, with some nuanced rules surrounding called and media timeouts. This meant that the standardized media timeouts I was used to no longer had context: Is this the under-12? Under-8?

Of note in the three games I saw: Bands were traveling a little lighter on the lower end this go round. Typically, four sousaphones is pretty standard, with three being occasional and two betting pretty rare. Half of the bands I saw brought just two and the others brought three; I couldn't get a gauge if they had electrically augmented bass that aided in that particular decision making. Notre Dame was the only band from my sessions that came with field drums; everyone else went with the drumset. 

Another one of the rule changes allowed for bands to play in dead ball situations. I noted this would be a relatively small change, since most such moments are the short time between a made basket and the ball being put back into play. Both teams in the third game did take advantage though, mostly on fouls: Syracuse - who I was seeing for the first time since joining the league - had a brief sting they used, and NC State, in the best use I've heard (small sample size, I'll admit) played the Price is Right failhorns after a foul.

I won't give you the full social media roundup this go round - nearly all of it was on Twitter at @80mins - but you can certainly check out the live reactions there.

The Greensboro Coliseum is dark this week - at least from basketball action - but I'm glad I can look forward to the best tournament of its kind in the nation each year here at home. 
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