|Some of you cringed just looking at this.|
On the one hand, the band acts an an official agent of the university, making it hard to break rank. There are those who hold the band to a higher standard, cringing that an arts organization would engage in something as boorish as a sports rivalry, even doubting that the members care what happens on the field. And not to be overstated, there is the very real mutual respect that exists between band folks, regardless of school, color, or band.
But consider the other side of the equation: A few dozen to a few hundred students gather every week in unwavering support of the team. If they're not vulnerable to get swept up in the spirit they help create, there's no spirit to be had.
The latest controversy - if you can call if that - arose as the University of Kentucky Wildcat Marching Band reprised a show featuring Bruno Mars' 24K Magic at their rivalry game vs. Louisville. The Cardinals - men's basketball specifically - were at the center of a controversy involving bribery and Adidas that lost their athletic director, head men's basketball coach, and others their jobs. Upon seeing the dollar sign drillset - logical, in context - the lazy, typical band-ignorers at the Worldwide Leader decided they had to be throwing shade at Louisville, leaving the folks at UK's band fielding all sorts of unnecessary questions.
The band folks at Kentucky assert that they had no intention of throwing shade to their cross-state foes. But if they had? It wouldn't be the first time.
Archrivals Michigan and Ohio State trade jabs every chance they get - even when their rival's not on the other sideline. Cal and UCLA - rivals in their own right - actually joined forces to throw shade at mutual rival USC. The smack talk preceding CrankFest 2017 took on WWE proportions, and among them, the opposing sidelines in the BoomBox Classic - Southern's Human Jukebox and Jackson State's Sonic Boom of the South - got in some low blows. While scatter bands like Stanford and Rice make a living of it, engaging in their schools' most salient rivalries is a mark of bands at all levels.
There is, of course, the other side of the coin. This same weekend, Texas hosted Texas Tech - arguably their big in-state rival since Texas A&M's departure for the SEC - and did a mass band performance of the 1812 Overture. In one of the most poignant tributes ever, Alabama and Auburn - perhaps the sport's biggest rivalry - joined forces to honor the memory of 9/11 at the Iron Bowl. But in most rivalry situations, my stance remains the same: Save the buddy-buddy antics for an exhibition. This is war.