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Sunday, August 25, 2019

CMB150

This is the first of a series throughout the 2019 football season to commemorate the College Football 150th Anniversary through the lens of the college marching band.

Perhaps I shouldn't start with a disclaimer, but I will. This isn't a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the marching band. Depending on how you do your math, that anniversary is either already beyond us, or yet to come.

Generally, "outdoor music" dates back to antiquity, with the American marching band being established at roughly the same time the United States was, with the Marine Band being denoted by the Continental Congress in 1775. In college, Notre Dame lays claim to the first college band, c. 1845. But even then, the activity's full potential was not yet realized.

In The Beginning
College football began in 1869 with a game between Rutgers and Princeton, though there's reasonable objection to the sport played on that November day being football as we know it. As the game continued to evolve over its first few decades, it also saw the addition of a symbiotic relationship in the collegiate marching band. The fight song was born in 1885, with Boston College's For Boston, and two years later, the Notre Dame band would first appear at a college football game, first marking the glorious pairing that endures to this day.

Two innovations came about in the first decade of the 20th century that would change the face of football. One was the forward pass. The other was the marching band halftime show. If one were to pinpoint the true start of the college football marching band, it might be with the first letter formed on the field - Purdue's Block P - or the first halftime show by Illinois, both in 1907. Indeed, by the year 1900, the presence of bands had become more common at football games, and as the sport grew, so did that partnership.

Evolution
Much of the early history of college football can be attributed to that which we now know as the Big Ten. After leaving its northeastern roots, college football's next outpost was the midwest, and as the gridiron game took hold there, so too did the traditions that would shape marching bands as we know them. Through the first few decades of the 20th century, football grew closer to the game as we know it today: 100 yard fields, end zones, 15 minute quarters and four downs. In 1920, a group of teams from Ohio would meet and form the first professional league, the American Professional Football Conference, now the NFL. The college game was more popular than ever - champions were crowned in all regions of the country, attendances topped 100,000 fans in new stadiums - modern day colosseums for the day's gladiators. These new stadiums increased the possibilities for marching bands: Taller grandstands allowed for more intricate field formations and the vantage points from which to view them. Illinois put the first word - ILLINI - on the field in 1923. The Marching Illini in particular would continue to innovate, from words to pictures and animation, colorful uniforms, and auxiliary groups. As coach salaries, stadiums, and salaries grew, universities had to wrestle with football's compatibility with the institution's mission.

Football, Band, America
Soon football, and the marching bands that accompanied it, would be inextricable from American identities. In the south, southern football prowess was linked with southern pride, and the Southeastern Conference was founded in 1932. In Louisiana, Governor Huey "Kingfish" Long linked pride in Louisiana with pride in LSU, and pride in LSU with the effectiveness of its marching band, which he quadrupled in size and even co-wrote songs for. Interest in the spectacle of marching bands extended beyond the stadium into articles in the likes of Popular Mechanics. Both football and marching would wrestle with questions of purpose that got at each activity's very soul. Football's often adversarial nature with academics would lead the University of Chicago and Sewanee: The University of the South to leave the Big Ten and SEC, respectively, to focus on academics. Marching bands, meanwhile, would have to reconcile showmanship with musicianship, as some directors and music departments decried the stunts that they felt defined the modern marching band. The College Band Directors National Association first met in 1941 as directors considered these challenges and their place within the college band landscape.

World War II had its effect on both football and marching bands. While some bands ceased their activities altogether, other allowed women into their ranks for the first time. Marching bands were already linked to war, as marching music began with military musicians; football, meanwhile was used as a proxy for war, with pre-flight military training schools excelling at the sport during the War. Navy athletic director Jonas H. Ingram would state, "The closest thing to war in times of peace is football."

In the decade and a half following World War II, showmanship continued to develop. Majorettes became common, as did dance routines; the longer strides that kept with the military tradition gave way to high stepping with shorter strides. The early 1950s brought the first mention of Eight to Five, the 22.5" marching step that covers five yards in eight steps that is now standard for most marching bands. The '50s would also see the use of field-specific instruments like mellophones as opposed to french horns, the removal of double reed instruments, arrangements tailored specifically to marching bands, and variety in uniforms. Bands began to observe an "early week" - yes, band camp - and specifically rehearse marching band fundamentals. Bill Moffit's Patterns in Motion in 1960 would set the scene for traditional style marching.

Meanwhile, bands' popular appeal would go beyond just the college game. Marching bands never caught on in a big way in the NFL, with the Redskins and Colts fielding notable exceptions. Still, when the professional game added the championship game that would become the Super Bowl following the 1966 season, they turned to college marching bands for halftime entertainment for eight of the first nine years.

Styles
Marching styles differentiate by region, conference, and institution type. Throughout the Big Ten, a traditional style was born and has largely endured. Elements which include high step marching and drum major strutting make their way into many programs, especially during pregame performances. 

The show style present at HBCUs maintains traditional style elements while adding more flair. Segregation sent many black music educators north, often to the midwest, for advanced degrees that they were barred from pursuing at predominantly white schools in the south. One such educator was William P. Foster, who served as director of Florida A&M University's Marching 100 for over a half century. Many of the innovations have become commonplace not just at HBCUs, but at all manners of institutions.

While the Ivy League was part of the founding of college football, their marching bands have taken a decidedly different tilt. Every Ivy League school but Cornell, and a host of other academically elite schools employ scramble bands. Their style incorporates nontraditional instrumentation; satirical, often irreverent shows; and drill that often set and resets not by marching into place but by scattering to their next place. The Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band is the most prominent of these, as the only such band in a Power 5 league.

The ongoing military influence on marching music evolved not only at the collegiate level, but also in the drum and bugle corps that would eventually form Drum Corps International. With these corps, the military stride morphed into the glide step that is a staple of corps style marching today. While it was described in 1957 as a special effect, it dominates the landscape today in both high school and college bands. 

The Modern Era
Marching band continues to influence many elements of pop culture outside of football to this day. Marching bands are featured in commercials, their style is incorporated into pop music, they add to live concerts and performances, and they are turned to by major corporations seeking to jazz up events.

In 2002, Drumline was released, the first and to date only major motion picture based entirely around marching band. The film's effect influenced pop culture and bands alike. Both Blast and Drumline Live have brought marching music into the theater, and the Honda Battle of the Bands has provided an annual pilgrimage to Atlanta for bandheads for the past decade and a half. The Big Ten Network centers bands in one of their commercials, and Beyonce based an entire Coachella performance and accompanying concert film around the black college band experience. 

The internet has played a large role in band culture, while media, social and otherwise, have as well. The 5th Quarter spent two decades as the internet's virtual HBCU band room before closing this past January. Halftime Magazine has been serving the marching arts in print form since 2007, and College Marching has had a huge presence, especially on social media, since its 2014 founding. Marching band content that was once handed off and mailed via video tape can now be found on YouTube, and podcasts such as the Marching Podcast and Marching Roundtable cover the activity as well. Marching bands themselves embrace all manners of media to get their message out and connect with their fans, members, and one another.

And much as the bands have evolved both in relation to and apart from college football these past 150 years, they will continue to push boundaries, thrill audiences, and enhance experiences for untold decades to come.

Several resources were consulted in this piece's creation. Citations can be found here

Band on the Road 2019


Each year since 2011, Band on the Road has attempted to catalog each travel game throughout the season for bands in power conferences. The resource is fully editable by design. While a good deal of work goes into its initial creation, the very point is that those in the know can edit it accordingly, making it as robust a database as possible. Band on the Road features the Power Five leagues by scope, not slight, and includes HBCU classics and, new for 2019, Battles of the Bands. Feel free to use it to see where your favorite band may be headed, or to add to the body of work with information not yet gathered. Enjoy!

Shop 80mins!

Some of you have seen me tease this shirt. Now you can have it!

The 80 Minutes of Regulation Shop is now LIVE via CafePress. If you've been wondering what to get the discerning band nerd in your life, look no further. The shop currently features a handful of band- and site-centric pieces, with more to come in the future.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Reasonable Doubt

Last week, it was announced that the Jay-Z, through Roc Nation, would enter into a partnership with the NFL through which he would become the entertainment strategist for the league, as well as partner on social justice initiatives. There's been significant reaction since the announcement, most of it unfavorable for Hov.

I've decided I'm going to go a route that's rare on these here internet streets: I'm going to reserve my right not to have an instant reaction. Yes, in a world that all but demands an immediate opinion and accompanying thinkpiece, I'm in no hurry.

I will say this: Jay looks real wack right now, as most pieces have pointed out. After backing Colin Kaepernick's protests of police brutality, and even quipping in a lyric, "I said no to the Super Bowl, you need me, I don't need you," he seems to have done a complete 180 in siding with the league, especially against the backdrop of Kaepernick's continued unemployment. Still, the possibility exists that Jay-Z is playing chess, not checkers, so we may have to wait to see how this all plays out.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Fresh to Death

From the moment I made the decision to go, I had a feeling Fresh Fest would be my Essence, my All Star Weekend, my Honda (ok, Honda is always going to be my Honda)

However lofty my expectations were, it exceeded them.

I spent last weekend in Pittsburgh for Fresh Fest, the nation's first and only black craft beer festival. I got into town Thursday night, after driving up from Greensboro. I stayed in an Airbnb on the North Shore, situated such that I parked my car once and didn't move it again until it was time to go. I got in right around 8 and, since this was a beer-fronted trip, headed to the closest brewery, which was Allegheny City, mere blocks from where I stayed. Dinner came via the taco truck onsite, and I enjoyed a couple of their brews before heading back to my apartment for the weekend.

I spent Friday checking out the fair city of Pittsburgh. I started touring PNC Park, home of the Pirates (in a Pittsburgh Crawfords shirt as I had mentioned before) and then headed across the Roberto Clemente Bridge for a Pittsburgh culinary institution: Primanti Bros. That evening, I headed back out to catch a Steelers preseason game, where I of course had to catch the Pittsburgh Steeline.

Strictly Fresh Fest focused behavior began on Friday night with a meetup at Voodoo Brewery over in Homestead. There, I caught up with quite a few folks from a Facebook group I'm in for Black craft beer lovers and set the tone for the day to come.

Saturday was the day. My early entry pass got me in at 3 - two hours before the 5pm regular entry - and I began to realize the full potential of the event's vision and reality. The event was diverse by design, and as such was the most black folks I've ever seen at a beer event at one time, while still having an incredibly diverse crowd. There were a few breweries I made it a point to catch, but other than that I was trying to try as much as I could - and was relatively successful. The vibe was amazing. The courtyard - amazing on an 80 degree Pittsburgh afternoon - featured live bands, with a DJ inside. The breweries were in both locations, with food options in both places as well. I got to catch up with some of my folk from the night before, and check out what all was going on from each of the breweries and vendors. The event was extremely well run and all love. I got to shout passing thank yous at the two primary organizers, Mike Potter of Black Brew Culture and Day Bracey of the Drinking Partners Podcast, and dap up Mike. Musically the headliner for the night was Nappy Roots, and they sent us all off right.

Lord and schedule willing, this will become an annual trip. Fresh Fest's existence is to serve as a foil to the overwhelmingly white, male, and bearded world of craft beer, and it served as evidence that the rest of us are out there. I have a not-at-all unfounded fear of chasing that high at every brewery and beer event I attend in the meantime, but Fresh Fest showed us all what can be possible. As to its organization: With all due respect to Pittsburgh, a city I expected to like and had that expectation confirmed, Fresh Fest was born out of the organizers' locale, not necessarily the city's features. If you're looking to gather a critical mass of blackfolk, they easily could have gone with DC and Atlanta. Fresh Fest didn't seek a city that was already lit; they took their city and made it lit. What's more, from what I could see, the craft beer industry in Pittsburgh fully embraced the festival, partnering with collaborations and supporting the event. This year was only its second year, and I can't wait to see what's to come. One thing's for sure - it will be fresh.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Early Look

It's football season, y'all.

With all due respect to baseball, the start of the NFL preseason, coupled with the end of drum corps season, puts an even more singular focus on the football to come. Preseason football has a strange way of being just what the doctor ordered. It's meaningless, sure, but after the six month drought since the end of the Super Bowl, there's something about the familiar cadence of an NFL broadcast that brings it all rushing back.

I had the opportunity to catch the Steelers' preseason game while I was up in Pittsburgh this past weekend. Steelers' QBs battled for the right to backup Big Ben, while across the field, Jameis Winston put in some reps for the visiting Buccaneers. And, of course, because of who I am as a person, I kept an eye on the Pittsburgh Steeline, who were plenty entertaining before and during the game.

Of course, marching percussion isn't the only sports adjacent back in play. Once the games are back... the games are back. Much as the preseason offers a chance to get a first look at your team in action, getting in early is key. If you're keeping it interesting with the weekly action, find a sportsbook that posts lines early. The earlier the lines are up, the longer you have to analyze the odds and find the best value. When regular season starts, compare a few of the books to see which one publishes the lines the earliest. It gives you the chance not only to do your homework, but to either be ready to strike as lines move, or to have your horse back in the stable while the week is still young. I'm sure you've yelled at your favorite team's sideline about their clock management; those early lines can help you keep your own in check.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Pint of Order

Beer is on brand.

I'm in Pittsburgh this weekend for Fresh Fest Beer Fest, and I'm taking in quite a few things that will likely become #content. I toured PNC Park and attended a Steelers game yesterday, and while it needs no justification, the festival (and my adjacent beers) will make it to a post and respective social media as well.

For many, myself included, beer is a part of the Cadence of Game Day, from the tailgate lot, to the pregame/postgame pub stop, to the bottle or can in front of you while you watch on TV. In the context of 80 Minutes, beer has made a few features over the years, both in the context in and beyond sports and marching/athletic music. Fresh Fest is also a fully cultural experience that I'm looking forward to experiencing - and, in fact, already have in the time that I've been here in Pittsburgh. So when you catch this beer content, just know that like loyalty and royalty, it's in our DNA.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Is This Drum Corps?

I tweeted it, so I figured I'd make it.

- or - how I learned to stop worrying and love drum corps

While I still have some curmudgeonly tendencies, I have in general made my peace with the way drum corps continues to evolve. Electronics, vocals, and amplification were once the new frontier, and as they have become commonplace, major multilevel setpieces on the field have made the activity three dimensional. There has been significant give-and-take not just between DCI, WGI, and high performing competitive high school bands, but also other facets of the performing arts.

Tlue Bluecoats' eponymous 2019 program that features music of the Beatles push past the limit of just about everything old school drum corps holds dear.

And. I. Love. It.

The costuming (can we still call them uniforms?) was exquisite. All of the props and staging were used well. And while there was a heavy electronic and sampled presence, everything done with analog horns and percussion was still top notch as we've come to expect from the corps. I don't know where they'll finish on Saturday night, but this show is the people's champion.

In evolving, this show has done one more thing that I'd love to see more of in drum corps. In doing the music of the Beatles Bloo has programmed a show that is instantly recognizable and supremely accessible to a large swath of fans. The corps returned to their hometown of Canton to perform halftime of the NFL's Hall of Fame Game, and I don't think I'm being hyperbolic when I say I don't think there's ever been a DCI show better suited to put in front of a football crowd. Drum corps shows tend to be built for DCI judges first, and DCI fans (a hopefully close) second. This year's program is honestly the type of show that may make a stadium full of fans there to see the Falcons play the Broncos show up in their respective home stadiums next year for DCI Southeastern or Drums Along the Rockies. I hope the activity will continue to deliver.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Worlds Colliding

If you've been to NightBEAT since it made the move to Winston Salem, you may have noticed a group in the stands or in the lots, usually clad in gold, taking in the show.

They were the Blue and Gold Marching Machine of North Carolina A&T State University, and this year, they'll be part of the show.

A&T sits across the Triad from the show's home at Wake Forest, and boasts the largest, most prominent marching band in the area. They'll be teaming up with the team from Carolina Crown who puts on the event to add value for all attendees, and the Aggies are sure to win some new fans from the drum corps-centric crowd.

Many will note the seeming incongruence of an HBCU band at a DCI show. Frankly, that's the beauty of it. Fans of any facet of the marching arts should be able to enjoy the entertainment that features A&T, 11 World Class corps, and SoundSport program Thunder of Roanoke. And pump the brakes if you're thinking the Aggies are a fish out of water. While unmistakably and undeniably an HBCU band, the Blue and Gold Marching Machine has shown that when they incorporate corps style elements, they're damn good at that too. There's no telling if the Aggies will give you what they do best, or switch their swag up for a feature to show that they can get down whichever way they please.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Searching For an American Hero

While UConn's move to the Big East wasn't driven by football, it won't be without gridiron implications.

For UConn, their football program becomes homeless, as the American Athletic Conference has already made it clear that UConn is not welcome as a football-only member. UConn may find itself in the same boat as its fellow New England flagship, UMass, who has been a Division I Independent since parting ways with the MAC in 2015. Since the MAC is the only other conference that makes geographic sense, there's a good chance UConn remains independent - if they remain FBS at all. UConn made the move to the FBS ranks 20 years ago - ironically, at the behest of the Big East Football Conference - but has an overall program history dating back to the late 19th century. If UConn returned to the championship subdivision, they wouldn't be the only recent program to do so. Idaho made a similar move after the dissolution of the WAC left them homeless, and at that point some wondered if the changing landscape of major college football, including the widening rift between the haves and have nots, would have others follow in their footsteps.

On the other side of the equation, the American is in a position to pick its next move, perhaps with some goading by ESPN. Unlike other defections from what was then the Big East, losing UConn doesn't leave the conference any weaker, and the die has already been cast with regards to access to the sport's power structure. The American has a few options: Stand pat at 11 football members, add a football only member (potentially complementing with a non-football member), or add a new member in all sports.

Keeping 11 members may be the strongest position, provided two things. The first is that their newly negotiated contract with ESPN remains in place for the schools that remain, ensuring each a larger piece of the pie. The second is that the American gets a waiver to host a championship game with fewer than 12 members, though this may simply be a formality. Should the AAC go divisionless, they can choose, as the Big 12 does, to match the two two strongest programs in the championship game, improving the resume of the victor. While this likely still will not result in a playoff berth, it can strengthen the AAC's case in the event they are in contention with any other Group of Five conferences for the New Year's Six spot.

Should the AAC seek to add a football only member, Army is the most viable option, if they'd consider it. Adding Army makes the Army-Navy game a conference matchup, allows the conference to beat its chest about truly being the American, and still operates within some semblance of geography. Air Force further spreads an already geographically expansive conference, and while they have their own planes, that Tampa to Colorado Springs road tilt has to be a doozie. BYU, while the strongest independent option, offers similar geographic challenges, and of course they made the active decision to go independent less than a decade ago. Adding a football-only member also calls the question if they also adda member in all other sports. While the AAC's position of the sixth best conference in football is pretty well cemented, their place in the pecking order in basketball is less firm. A successful basketball pairing would have to make sense for the American while also improving the fortune of the incoming member, something that poaching from the likes of the A-10 wouldn't do. Short of getting a team from the Missouri Valley - Loyola-Chicago's recent Final Four run made noise, but was an outlier - there's nothing that truly fits the bill. Further, I'm hesitant to once again sow the division between basketball schools and football schools that tore apart the old Big East.

If the conference chooses to expand, it will likely have its pick of the remainder of the Group of Five teams. Much as the Big East used Conference USA as a feeder program through a variety of realignments, The American comes from a position of strength over the rest of the non-power leagues, even without access to football's power structure itself. With all due respect to UConn, it wouldn't be difficult to replace them with a program of equal or greater value on the football side of the equation.

My choice - selfish, but also justifiable - would be Appalachian State. To some the move may seem premature. After all, the Mountaineers have spent just a half decade at the FBS level. Still, they bring the distinction of winning at every level, suffering no setback when changing subdivisions and winning the Sun Belt each of the past three years. They also bring a rabid fanbase in North Carolina, and through it the Charlotte media market, as well as a natural rivalry with ECU.

There are a number of other candidates that, for a Conference USA-era USF alumnus, feel like getting the band back together. UAB, Southern Miss, and Charlotte (this time with football) would all rejoin former conferencemates USF, Cincinnati, Houston, and Memphis, and Tulane, as well as UCF, Tulsa, and SMU from the conference's life immediately following. A couple of other current Conference USA members, notably UTSA, ODU, and the aforementioned Charlotte, have programs that are less than a decade old.

Losing its northernmost outlier tightens the conference up just a bit, keeping each of its teams at or below the 40th parallel. Still, if the American, which is also moving league offices from Providence to Dallas, wishes to maintain a New England outpost, UMass may be worth a phone call. The Minutemen rebuffed an "all in or all out" offer from the MAC to keep its other sports in the Atlantic 10, The American may offer a profile in all sports that meets their needs a bit more. The Minutemen would also bring with them the only Sudler Trophy in FBS outside of the Power Five leagues. Filling out an independent schedule for a number of years may make them long for the stability of conference affiliation, but it will also mean quite a few contracts to get out of in coming years.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

UConn Go Home Again

There's no place like home.

The University of Connecticut recently announced they will be rejoining the Big East, a league they were a charter member of in 1979. When conference realignment tore the conference as we knew it asunder, UConn and the other football playing members splintered off in to what is now known as the American Athletic Conference, while the private, Catholic, basketball schools without FBS football retained the Big East name and forged forth a new path, picking up a few programs along the way.

This development is just the latest in the ongoing conference realignment saga, but it differs from previous moves significantly in that it is not driven by major college football or by media markets. To the latter, Hartford-New Haven ranks #33, a paltry addition to a conference that already boasts the top four markets east of the Mississippi in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. To the former, the Big East doesn't field football, leaving UConn's future football conference - even subdivision - uncertain.

To be clear, the return to the Big East isn't all wistful nostalgia for UConn. While they'll return to familiarity, it's a shrewd business move that brings them literally closer to home, with a critical mass of schools in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. The expanded Big East will involve conference games as far west as Creighton, but the American's geographic footprint, with outposts in Tampa, Tulsa, and Houston, was far more daunting. They'll return to at least some of their traditional rivalries, rather than manufactured trophy games with C. Florida. Men's hoops will return to the venerated Madison Square Garden, and women's hoops might at least get some competition rather than a league in which they've never suffered a loss in six years.

UConn will be the odd school out - the only public school in the bunch, and one of only two non-Catholic institutions. It's also the only school with the major college football albatross to account for, but that's their problem, not the Big East's. Frankly, the conference has proven it gets along just fine without the F word wagging the dog, and UConn, with the acceptance of membership, has nodded assent.

So with all due respect to another place where basketball drives the bus, This time it's UConn saying there's no place like home.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

This Is My Fight Song

Sometimes, you get to celebrate America as you celebrate America.

This week offered a Women's World Cup match (and victory, fittingly, over England) just days before the Fourth of July. Watching the game - and naturally, imagining marching bands in that context - got me thinking: Which of our national songs are analogous to school spirit songs?

I first shied away from the Star Spangled Banner as our fight song, mostly because its time signature makes it difficult to march or clap along to. But beyond that, in form and function, as much as I wanted to give the gig to Stars and Stripes Forever, the Anthem is it.

Our alma mater? America the Beautiful. It extols the beauty of our "campus," uses its thees and thys in all the right places, and borrowed its tune from an older hymn.

And don't worry, there's still a home for our national march. Stars and Stripes Forever can occupy that secondary fight song/spirit song spot like NC State's Red and White or Georgia Tech's Up with the White and Gold.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Home Team

This August, I'm headed up to Pittsburgh for Fresh Fest Beer Fest, the nation's first and only Black beer festival. Since making the commitment to go, I've been planning the trip and getting a general sense of Pittsburgh. From a sports standpoint, I'll be headed to a Steelers preseason game, as well as touring the Pirates' PNC Park. I've also considered a way to pay homage to the local streets without perping.

The trouble is, I don't mess with Pittsburgh like that.

I mean, all indications are that it's a city I will thoroughly enjoy. I've long thought that geographically and topographically, it's a city with a lot to like. I've only been once before, a trip during college where I spent precious little time outside of the hotel or the recital hall. But my ties to metro Philly, metro Baltimore, and even USF (former conference rival of the Pitt Panthers) have made it a city a generally disregard a good deal of the time.

My solution? Rep for the Pittsburgh Crawfords.

The Pittsburgh Crawfords were one of a number of  Negro League teams that called the Pittsburgh area home. They played in Pittsburgh from 1931-38, and had lineups that included quite a few Hall of Famers, including some of the most well known Negro League players, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Cool Papa Bell.

They also boasted William Julius "Judy" Johnson.

Judy Johnson grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, not unlike Yours Truly. When Minor League Baseball returned to Wilmington in the form of the Wilmington Blue Rocks in 1993, the field was named for Johnson. Johnson also spent part of his career with the Homestead Grays, perhaps a bit more of a Negro League household name, but he spent the bulk of his Western PA stint with the Crawfords. So when I rep for the "home team" in Pittsburgh, I'll be doing so on my terms.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Logo à Gogo

Courtesy of The Daily Stampede
The last year has been rebrand season at each of the universities I'm associated with. Both alma maters and my employer went through some sort of brand update, to either the athletic logo, institutional logo, or both, to varying success.

First my graduate alma mater, USF. I've already given both its original ill conception and its eventual coup de grace considerable time here, so no need to rehash that.

Thank U, next.

UNCG has new looks with both the institutional logo and the athletic/spirit logo. Full disclosure: I like the change quite a bit, and if I didn't, I'd probably keep my mouth shut - can't bite the hand that feeds me.

The institutional look has been termed a "brand refresh," and still features the tried and true Minerva shield. The colors have updated - slight changes to the shades of blue and gold used, and gray added - and the text emphasized the G, as it does in the athletic logo.

The athletic logo's new look Spartan is a fierce upgrade from an already strong look with the now retired rising shield. My favorite of the secondary marks is the G Spear. While it's not a standalone logo, it again emphasizes the primary logo with a spear that is unmistakably Spartan - the classical accuracy to include the sauroter on the back end of the spear is much appreciated attention to detail.

And then there's alma mater #1. They're not changing the athletic logo - that took place nearly a decade ago.  It's the institutional logo that got an update, and I love it. I was clued in to the coming change back in September, when I got to participate in a survey that presented two options. Of these, my preferred option incorporated the Calvert (black and gold) portion of the flag, rotated 90 degrees (which left me vexillologically vexed, as that's now how it would present on a properly hung flag) on an escutcheon like the one seen here. The end result was far better than I could have expected.

The UMBC wordmark has been a mainstay for decades; it's the shield that's being added. Having used only the Calvert portion as in the survey, they would have been at once right and wrong. On the one hand, our colors are black and gold, so it makes sense. That peeloff has been used plenty, including the Retriever Nation and Lot 17 (soccer supporters club) logos. I fly a Calvert flag at my tailgates these days. It's the primary element in the Baltimore flag, which is where things get interesting - UMBC's not located in Baltimore. In using both the Calvert and Crossland colors, they asserted our importance to the state, and reinforce at least the "M" for those who may not immediately recognize the acronym, even after March 16, 2018. It's even blazonable: An escutcheon, fimbriated cendrée and sable, the arms of Calvert and Crossland dimidiated. UMBC's got a great new look.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Raise a Glass

Two of the larger names in craft beer are joining forces.

Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) and Dogfish Head announced late last week that they will be merging. The two breweries were the second and thirteenth, respectively, in terms of craft brewery sales in 2018, and their merging represents a sizable shift in craft beer.

True enough, my first thoughts on the merger came not as a craft beer drinker, but as a Delawarean. We're a bit territorial when it comes to our native son Dogfish Head, and while both sides describe the move as a merger, my big-bank-take-little-bank lens immediately saw this as Boston Beer Company acquiring Dogfish Head, and feared the disappearance of at least the name of a chiefly Delaware brand, as when Walgreen's acquired Happy Harry's or Bank of America acquired MBNA. From a sports perspective, the prospect of losing our identity to a New England-based company particularly stung. Thankfully, it doesn't look like the brand is going anywhere.

Sam Adams has long been among the most macro of the micros and the big dog in the craft brewing room. Still, they've maintained their commitment to independence, and where some others are instead selling to major breweries like Budweiser's AB InBev, Boston Beer Company and Samuel Adams instead opted for this strategic alliance. They aren't the first to do this - notably, Artisanal Brewing Ventures was born of Victory and Southern Tier, and has since acquired Sixpoint - but certainly this merger is a big deal. I've even seen some call one or both parties sellouts, which doesn't make a bit of sense to me. Craft beer has long embodied a "we all we got" ethos, and any attempt at Voltron between companies is simply to continue to stake that claim. As the companies note in the press release, they still make up less than 2% of the national beer market, and craft beer in its totality only makes up about 11%. This move isn't knocking down the Buds and Millers of the world anytime soon, but it's keeping both brands in the game.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Only U

Ding Dong, the Lynch is dead.

Which old Lynch? The Merrill Lynch.

The much maligned USF institutional logo, featuring a reasonable facsimile of the Merrill Lynch logo will die at cock's crow on Monday. (or, yanno, probably sometime during the workday). Its replacement will be the athletic logo, the Iconic U, which will now pull double duty and represent the university in its entirety.

Daily Stampeder emeritus Collin can tell you about it better than I can.

In the end, we, the alumni, fans, and supporters, were bullish on the Merrill Lynch Lookin' Ass logo's departure, and for all of the digging in of heels the university did, eventually, we were heard.

I'd like to think I did my part.

Friday, May 3, 2019

I'ma Let You Finish

Taylor Swift is an inspiration.

I've been without a charger for my laptop since leaving it in Columbus in later January. I hadn't yet replaced it, and pieced together my non-work computer time with my phone and occasional library trips. I had made the loose commitment to go by the Apple store for a new charger "some time in the next week."

After seeing Taylor Swift's Billboard Music Awards performance and the dragging that ensued, I made time to get it today.

I've got to tell you this story before I tell you the main one: Of late, I catch most zeitgeists late. Blame the kids, blame the schedule, blame the priorities, but if it's hot and you're talking about it, I probably haven't seen it yet. But like getting a charger to write this here, I made time for Beyonce's Homecoming. I'm not Hive, but her steadfast commitment to the HBCU band vibe made it must-watch TV for me. Indeed, I started watching the day it dropped, and finished over the weekend. It was for that reason I had full context when Taylor bust on the scene.

There's no two ways about it: Taylor's performance was reminiscent - nay, derivative - of Beyonce's. Her intro, from the whistle blasts, drumline, and opening pose to the use of pink (a muted baby pink to Beyonce's Bret Hart hot pink), anyone who had seen Homecoming not two weeks prior would have made the same inference. Some speculated that was the point - after all, Taylor's performance has been the talk of the day in a way it may not otherwise have been - but the reviews have been less than kind. She's been dragged all up and down social media, with folks referencing her unseasoned, Great Value brand of Coachella, or as it trended on Twitter, Mayochella. True enough, Beyonce's not the first artist to incorporate a marching band, but when it's done so high profile and so recently, it's hard not to notice. And perhaps most egregious of the rip was the undercard of the drumline present at Taylor's performance: They weren't that good.

Other than the swaggerjack, there were other elements at play. First, Beyonce curated an HBCU marching band for her performance that was able to co-create the experience with her. In contrast, Taylor opted for what was functionally percussive set design - window dressing for her performance in the form of System Blue, the drums-for-hire arm of 18 time DCI World Champion Blue Devils.

Eighteen championships. I only bring their Bama-like pedigree into the discussion because it seems to defy my earlier point: They weren't that good. The lack of precision from a unit associated with a four-time Fred Sanford High Percussion award-winning corps brings to light a cultural disconnect. To observe the players in action, it was likely they were given a stage direction like "have fun!" or "get funky!" For whatever reason, the moment they got loose, all precision went out the window, a fatal flaw. Fun is not the opposite of discipline. Let's jump back to Beyonce, and in the larger vein HBCU bands. Her squad clearly had an amazing time, and performed at a high level. But to equate having fun with lack of discipline hardwires other false dichotomies that manifest as prejudice and discrimination in the marching band world.

If you accept the parsimonious narrative, System Blue wasn't just told to get funky. They were told to emulate an HBCU band. That doing such would cause them to throw their chops out the window is troubling, but unsurprising. The belief that HBCU bands are primitive is an old trope that persists despite evidence to the contrary. Corps style bands have long looked down their nose at show style bands, even as they've tried their best to bite elements since, say, late 2002 or so. But the only judge that matters is the audience, and consensus is T Swizzle got cranked on.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Virginia Should Not Call In Vain

I don't know what Ryan Odom's vice of choice is, but I hope Tony Bennett bought him an extra large.

The Virginia Cavaliers men's basketball team entered the sports pantheon as the 2019 national champions. It was 388 days prior they made a different kind of history: Being the first 1 seed to fall to a 16 seed in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It's no stretch so say the two are related.

Bennett and his team spent the entire season fielding questions about the UMBC loss. The four letters rang out as chants in rival arenas. And though UVA ultimately won the title. event trailing in the first round against Gardner-Webb elicited a touch of fear in the Wahoo faithful.

A redemption story needs something from which to redeem, and last year's loss provided that spark. Few doubted Bennett's coaching acumen, but the fact that he had yet to make a Final Four was a glaring omission on his resume. After the loss, there were louder-than-whispers that for all of his talent, he was prone to underachieving. It's well documented that Tony Bennett is a Rocky fan, and it wouldn't suprise me if he saw shades of the pugilist's path in his own squad.

Some may think I'm hitching UMBC to UVA's coattails. Quite the opposite - I'm simply taking credit for the assist. When the inevitable 30 for 30 or documentary comes out, just be sure it starts on March 16, 2018.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

H-Town Takeover

During Week 1 of the college football season, the pro stadiums in Denver, New Orleans, Charlotte, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, and Arlington will be hosting games.

In Houston, they'll be hosting bands.

The Cracker Barrel Old Country Story National Battle of the Bands will take place on Saturday, September 1. Born the Queen City Battle of the Bands, the battle relocated to Houston, and following a year of reorganization, wil take the field tot start this fall. Today, the field was announced. The event will feature:
-FAMU Marching 100
-Miles College Purple Marching Machine
-North Carolina Central Marching Sound Machine
-Prairie View A&M Marching Storm
-Southern University Human Jukebox
-Talladega College Great Tornado
-Tennessee State Aristocrat of Bands
-Texas Southern Ocean of Soul

The announcement got the bandosphere humming for what should be a great show. For those keeping conference score, the bill includes three from the SWAC, two from the MEAC, one from the SIAC, and two that Honda would deem "independent" - Talladega from the NAIA, and Tennessee State, from the Ohio Valley, a non-HBCU conference.

Personally, I'm still a bit salty that the show relocated from my relative backyard to halfway across the country, butI suppose those in SWAC country can have a little fun too. The organizers reportedly left Charlotte for greener pastures in what Houston had to offer. Indeed, they turned the band announcement into a media event featuring no less than the mayor. And while word is that they would have had access to Bank of America Stadium - the pro field that had previously eluded them - moving into NRG Stadium in Houston was the target from the get-go. Objectively, I can also acknowledge that having this take place farther west gives it some distance from the 240 mile stretch of I-85 that will also host Honda once again in early 2020.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Faceoff

When the Alliance for American Football stepped on the scene, they avoided competing with the NFL by design, opting instead to complement, even make deals with, the sports primary league.

When the Premier Lacrosse League steps on the scene in June, they're ready for war.

Much like the sport's martial roots, the Premier Lacrosse League is preparing for a direct faceoff against the sport's primary outdoor league, Major League Lacrosse. The league's founder, Paul Rabil, is an MLL alumnus and perennial All-Star. In addition to high quality lacrosse, his vision includes a league in which players are owners with equity, full-time wages, and benefits. PLL has a media partnership with NBC, who will air games on the flagship network and NBC Sports. Will the new challenger unseat - even end - the MLL?

Unique about the PLL among North American teams sports is that the league will feature a touring model where the teams are not identified with a city or home region. The leagues six teams, the Archers, Atlas, Chaos, Chrome, Redwoods, and Whipsnake Lacrosse Clubs are exactly that - no location designation to speak of. Their 14 week season will take place in 12 cities, with a touring model not unlike DCI, NASCAR, or PGA. It's a potentially bold move, but the risk seems sound: Instead coalescing around home town pride, rooting interests, if they develop, may center on players, style of play, and team identity. Instead of attending seven home games, live fans will wait for these lacrosse mega-events to blitz their region for a weekend and get their fill there. The league uses the slogan "We the players. For the fans." to highlight their dual purpose for both the players and the fans.

So far, like the MLL and the sport of lacrosse itself, the announced cities skew heavily eastern, with New York, Boston, Baltimore, DC, Atlanta, and Chicago being confirmed as hosts. I'm selfishly hoping for a stop in the Carolinas - the Triangle (likely WakeMed Soccer Park) or Charlotte seem the most likely options - and expect at least some teams further west will make an appearance. The league, interestingly enough, is headquartered in Los Angeles.

A new era is set to begin, and it just may be a battle.

-Premiering in June
-Founded by Paul Rabil, who has played in both of the current pro leagues
-Touring method - like DCI, NASCAR, or PGA
-Intentionally setting up as a competitor to MLL. but with a different model. Will it complement? Supplant?
-Is the model healthy? Allegiance to players, teams, styles, but not geographic ties.
-Compare/contract with AAF

Monday, March 25, 2019

Mad

I might need an intervention.

A Tournamentervention.

Here in Tournament Town, I always make sure to get in on at least some of the March Madness (and to be clear, March Madness begins with conference tournaments, not just the Big Dance) action here or nearby. Usually, it's a Fat Day - the double-doubleheader of an early- or quarterfinal round in a conference tournament - at the ACC men's or women's tournament. Occasionally, I make it up the hill to the SoCon tournament in Asheville, or catch early NCAA tournament action with a local host.

This season began with the second round of the ACC women's basketball tournament, a full Thursday posted up in the Greensboro Coliseum (and in the break, the brewery across the street). Twelve hours yielded four games, eight teams, eight bands.

While Greensboro was only slated to host two basketball tournaments this year, we were gifted with bonus basketball as UNCG's men's team hosted two NIT games after missing the NCAA Tournament. I caught the second of these, which saw the home team fall to Lipscomb, ending their season. Of note: Lipscomb didn't bring their band, which I personally consider a cardinal offense for any team that earns postseason play.

Today I bought my ticket for this weekend's action: The Greensboro Regional of the NCAA women's tournament. As I type this, South Carolina and Iowa have already punched their tickets, while NC State, Kentucky, Baylor, and Cal will vie for the remaining two spots. I'll catch Saturday's doubleheader before laying live college basketball to rest until at least the fall.

When I March, I March HARD.

Next year, Greensboro hosts three tournament weekends in a row once more: ACC women's, ACC men's, and NCAA men's first and second rounds. With any luck I'll be a portion of each. What's more, it came to my attention that this year and the next two, the SEC women's tournament is in Greenville, SC, a cool city that's a reasonable drive away. Hmm....

Somebody stop me.

Better yet, don't.

Friday, March 8, 2019

This Is March

Barely a day and a half into the iconic month, I watched a team rally from down 18 at home to a game-winning three with 2.4 remaining on the clock.

And that was the undercard of the day.

I made the trip home to UMBC this past weekend for Spirit Groups Alumni Day. For the first time in four years, I was back with the Down and Dirty Dawg Band, and for two tunes, back behind the drumset. And yet this year, I came home to a different house. UMBC basketball has moved from its longtime home in the RAC to the new Event Center, which opened last season. The upgrade is significant.

I arrived and made my way to the rhythm section. One of the biggest changes was that the drumset, previously on the floor level, is now at the top of the section. It made it a bit challenging for me, as a not-tall drummer, to see the director without positioning myself just so; I imagine this is the challenge commentators often talk about with short quarterbacks and seeing over their offensive lines. The current band was great - I know they would be - and I met several more recent alumni as well.

At some point too late to make a bigger deal about, I realized that this with the band having begun in 1998-99, this was the 20th anniversary season. I joined in its second year. I mentioned this to the current drummer who noted, "The pep band's 20? I'm 20."

I got to experience some of the band's new traditions, chants and charts, and bring back a few from my way. Ray Lewis popularized the "What time is it?!" chant during his career in a stadium not far from our own, and we adopted it as the very dawgs in the house he references. Thankfully, it's well known enough that everyone caught on as I reprised it for Alumni Day.

The game, as I mentioned, was an exciting one. Despite recent success, I spent enough losing seasons behind the drumset that I've never considered a win a given, nor a prerequisite to enjoying a game. At the point that we were down 18 in the 2nd, I was fully expecting to add another L to my UMBC hoops watching experience. That was not to be; the team rallied, ultimately winning by three on a near-buzzer beating 3. Our former post-win tune was a mashup of 3 Dog Night's Celebrate and Kool and the Gang's Celebration. These days, unsurprisingly, it's T-Pain's All I Do Is Win.

There was only one returning alumnus who I truly overlapped with in my time in the band, and several others I had met in previous trips home. Still, the bond of shared experience remained between me and those who I was meeting for the first time, or had never met. I had the slightest hesitation in headed to the after-afterparty at PubDog with alumni as much as a decade and a half my junior, but as I knew, the beat goes on, and I had a great time with some fellow alumni. The rest of the trip was a nice roll through southeastern Baltimore County as well - both Heavy Seas brewery and Guinness' US branch are in Halethorpe, mere minutes from campus and where I was staying.

Monday, February 11, 2019

March & Bands

I'm not going to hit y'all with my annual "hey, just starting to pay attention to hoops" post (whoops), but as I look forward to the final month of hoops and tournament season, there are a few opportunities that will be or may be in front of me. Here's what I've got:

-The remainder of the (22 wins and counting!) UNCG Spartans season
-Pep Band Alumni Day, recently announced for March 2, at UMBC. Don't know for sure yet if I'll make the trip, but the draw both of home and of  the new Events Center make it enticing
-ACC women's basketball tournament, here in Greensboro
-ACC men's basketball tournament, down in Charlotte
-NCAA men's basketball tournament, especially if one of my schools heads somewhere within reach (which this year is basically Columbia)
-NCAA women's tournament - Greensboro Regional

Alliance

The Alliance of American Football began its play, by design, the week after the Super Bowl.

This past weekend, the fledgling league kicked off its inaugural season with four games between the league's eight teams, drawing at least curious eyeballs that may or may not stick out the season. I had a pair among them, having been intrigued by the concept since the Alliance announced its inception nearly a year ago. Early returns seem to indicate interest, and time will tell if it remains.

Unlike other professional football leagues, the Alliance doesn't compete with the NFL by design, even going as far as to call itself a developmental league. While no formal minor league relationship exists, the Alliance runs a schedule counter to the NFL by design, potentially capitalizing on those who wish to shorten the nearly seven month layoff between the Super Bowl and the start of college football. Many of the league's games will even air on the NFL Network. As a new league, the AAF is agile enough for a few nuances with the rules, and the NFL would be wise to keep an eye on their use for potential incorporation into their product. The games trend a good deal shorter, with a shorter play clock, changes in the kicking game, and a reduction in TV timeouts (opting for partial screen commercials instead). As the Alliance continues to differentiate their product I can think of one other key area:

(c'mon, have we met?)

Marching bands.

Opening weekend saw Bethune Cookman's Marching Wildcats perform at the Orlando Apollos' home opener against the Atlanta Legends. The trip clocked in right around an hour for BCU, though it's notable that there's another band that calls the stadium home. The season incongruence may make regular college band performances difficult - college marching bands are likely packing away the field drums and sousaphones in favor of concert band equipment at this time of year. Still, each AAF stadium is already in use by a college band, so sustaining a band of their own could scratch an itch for marching members and bandheads in the same manner the league is set to do for football fans. The Alliance's schedule runs February through April - essentially, Spring semester at many schools - giving students, alumni, and locals of the likes of the Marching Knights, Marching Blazers, Spirit of San Antonio, and other AAF cities the opportunity to keep their skills sharp and march on. While less-than-full stadiums in the opening week would suggest that the league's primary audience is those who tune in on TV, marching bands could add to the in-stadium atmosphere. The league, by design, plays on both Saturdays and Sundays, a nod to both the college and NFL products. Why not take this page out of the college playbook?

Monday, January 21, 2019

Coda

Me with 5th Quarter co-founder Christy Walker
Queen City Battle of the Bands, 2017
On January 19, 1999, The5thQuarter.com began, giving a voice, forum, and community to HBCU marching bands, their members, and supporters. On January 19, 2019 - 20 years later - The 5th shuttered its doors, leaving but a headstone where the liveliest virtual bandroom on the internet once stood. The 5th Quarter began, and endured, as an online bulletin board/forum where the primary topic of conversation, unifying purpose, and raison d'etre was HBCU bands.

I have no business writing its eulogy. But then, it's never stopped me before. As a space for HBCU bandheads, I was a lurker, at best an occasional commenter. I don't recall when I first found the 5th, but I know for sure I was there when Drumline came out. If memory serves, I was familiar already, and knew it was a safe haven from other corners of the internet where corps style kids questioned the film's bona fides. It wasn't until later that I learned of the immense impact that the site, and its members, had on the film's creation and success.

I called the 5th a virtual bandroom, and perhaps a big part of its gift was being virtually every bandroom. Ask anyone who's ever marched, and they will tell you the bandroom is home, a place born of a common purpose and a common love. In what may seem a paradox on its face, the 5th became that place for members from otherwise rival bandrooms, bound by the HBCU experience, shouting "we all we got," even while not messing with one another otherwise.

Twenty years. There are students in HBCU bands now for whom today is the first day that they and the 5th Quarter have not coexisted.

Those of us who profess to cover marching and athletic music online must recognize the 5th as our pioneer, griot, and elder statesman. The home they created made that which many of us continue possible. The landscape is now rich for HBCU bands specifically, and all marching bands more generally, but the 5th set the wheels in motion.

For that matter, the 5th Quarter is also a pioneer in Black spaces on the internet. The landscape has changed immensely in the past 20 years, and the 5th was on the leading edge. BBS and AOL chat rooms were the currency then, the predecessor to what we now consider social media. Some with some internet longevity may recall BlackPlanet as the premier Black social network of its day; the 5th Quarter predates even its launch by nearly nine months. The 5th was predominantly, authentically, and unapologetically Black on the internet since the dawn of the Cash Money Records takeover.

From a personal standpoint: I am proud to consider co-founder Christy Walker a friend of mine. Joe Beard of the Marching Podcast made the introduction over on Twitter, and if I'm perfectly honest, I had to try not to get too geeked, already being familiar with her work. Christy and I met in person for the first time at Queen City Battle of the Bands 2017, and I saw in real life the community that she has played a key role in creating. And while I was late to the live game, this community had been cultivated over those two decades through live events, NLBH, SYOSO, Honda Sky (Phi) Box, and the heathen section wherever such a gathering occurs, as well as media offerings that lived beyond the site itself, including the 5th Quarter podcast and Christy's own presence on whichever social media she inhabits.

While the 5th itself has reached its coda, it has left behind in others the will and conviction to carry on. On their live denouement, Christy and her co-founder Mike Lee lamented that future generations of marchers would not know the 5th first hand. While that may be technically true, the 5th Quarter's fingerprints are on every bit of HBCU media present and yet to come. Simply put, they were the blueprint, the drill book we all followed and will continue to follow from here on out, and to that we owe the utmost gratitude. From the bottom of all of out hearts, thank you. ||

Monday, January 14, 2019

You Don't Know the Half of It

Can you be one of the world's most popular sports leagues and socially untouchable?

Ask the NFL.

Despite being one of the most lucrative sports leagues in the world, the National Football League has had a helluva time rounding out the Super Bowl halftime performance. Despite being among the most watched events annually, many artists - particularly black artists - aren't going anywhere near the Super Bowl, due largely to the NFL's stance (stances?) on police brutality protests during the National Anthem, and continued blackballing of Colin Kaepernick. To date, Maroon 5 has signed on as the headliner, with support including Travis Scott and most recently Big Boi of Outkast, the latter an addition of authentic ATL. And while Big Boi takes his Ls at both his decision to perform and his stance as at least the NFL's 8th choice, I wonder: Are there others who will curve the League?

While marching bands are no longer the main event at Super Bowl halftime shows, there has more often than not been representation from a local college of high school band or bands at most of the most recent games. In Atlanta, if you're looking locally, that almost certainly means HBCUs and predominantly black high schools. Much as DC area high schools and Howard chose not to perform at Trump's inauguration, there's a very real possibility that Atlanta - and other bands for whom the A is a well worn path - will sit this one out as well. Then again, much as Talladega saw the Inaugural stage as too large to pass up, someone may slide in if the Shield comes calling.

There be Dragons

You may have expected me to have big opinions on the Imagine Dragons halftime show during the CFB Playoff National Championship. Certainly I'd have something to say about the sort of Super Bowl style, recording artist performance that the game has put in place for the second year now, after having included Kendrick Lamar last year.

But I don't. Why? Because I don't acknowledge its existence.

Sure, I knew Imagine Dragons and Lil Wayne were playing halftime (from an off-site location nearly 50 miles from the game venue) that was televised within the main TV broadcast for the game. I just never considered, for the slightest second, that I'd do anything different than what I did: watch the Million Dollar Band and the Band that Shakes the Southland on whichever ESPN3 channels were carrying it. This year, I opted for the "All 22" feed, which featured a high angle cam.

I've got nothing against Imagine Dragons. I rather enjoy their predecessor, Kendrick Lamar. But I'd never choose a recording artist over marching bands for a college halftime both as a matter of preference and loyalty.

It's not unreasonable to believe that these off-site performances may be the proverbial camel's nose under the tent that leads us to Super Bowl style halftimes in the CFB Playoff's future. While this particular championship game format is new, it's proven to be big business for the sport and its broadcast partner, ESPN. While loyalty to the product - college football and all that it entails - itself should preserve the relationship with marching bands, the desire to chase the next thrill puts mimicking its professional counterpart in play. Especially as the NFL becomes an increasingly polarizing product, the market for major artists who might levy moral objections to the pro game increases for the collegiate game. So while I hope we never find ourselves there, the possibility looms.

That said, I did listen to an interview with Imagine Dragons this week, from ESPN Music, that was included in the Campus Conversation podcast feed, and I will acknowledge that they had one piece going for them that their college counterparts did not: A sense of scale.

Imagine Dragons acknowledged that they knew playing halftime at a football game - THIS football game - changed the expectation. They wouldn't be starting cold, but rather riding a wave of momentum created by the first half of football. They took the time they were given seriously, and likely responded in kind. For their college marching band counterparts, while I'm sure the energy was there - especially fueled by allegiance to one of the two teams that created that momentum - this was, in a lot of ways, just another day at the office. Simply put, the bands need to level up.

Both bands - and indeed, the bands in nearly all postseason/championship situations - played shows they had already played before their home crowds during the season. It's almost entirely the nature of the beast. The college football regular season goes final at around the same time as most schools' fall semesters, meaning that the time any band would be installing and cleaning a new show is the break between semesters. The bands scatter to the winds after classes begin, typically coming back together just to travel to the postseason games, and put in minimal rehearsal onsite before taking the field come gametime. A new show is impractical, especially given that timeframe. On the other hand: The bands have likely the largest and undoubtedly the most high profile stage before them when playing at the national championship. While they give it their all every week, a championship situation ought to have a certain je ne sais quoi.

I can't say I know what that is. Lasers? A light show? Costume changes? Probably not. But if you've got a reasonable shot at the postseason, start planning now, and kick it up a notch.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Bowl Bands: 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship

Perhaps the best way to think of Alabama-Clemson is as a touring show. So far, they've done Glendale, Tampa, New Orleans, and now Santa Clara. Who knows, they may just end up in a city near you!

After having talked a bit longer about what this game means in the fabric of the sport, I also took a look at the games from 2018, 2017, and 2016. Last year, I called the semifinal meeting the rubber match, but in the framework of national championships, this year's matchup in Silicon Valley is for all the (micro)chips.

Clemson:

Alabama:

||: Alabama-Clemson :||

I hope the band staff don't pop those off after every season.
Monday night, Alabama and Clemson will play for a championship.

Again.

For the third time in the past four years, Alabama and Clemson will compete for major college football's crown, the streak of title game matchups only interrupted last year when they met in a semifinal instead. In the week since the game has been inked (or for many, the month since the playoff selections were made) many the question has been asked: Is the continued dominance of Alabama and Clemson bad for the sport of college football?

If you believe college football exists solely to setup the climax that is the championship game, then perhaps things are getting a little stale. But if you consider college football in its totality the greatest sport on the planet for the entire season, then an admittedly repetitive championship game is but one - what's that term the playoff committee likes to use? Data point.

For what it's worth, I hail from a school who has never had so much of a sniff at the national championship picture, save for one week in 2007, so its value as currency may be a bit lost on me. But other than Bama or Clemson potentially icing your team out of competition, what is there to be upset about? If you believe the championship exists to match the two best teams, mission accomplished. We're likely to be rewarded with a well played, competitive game on Monday. The system worked as it should have, and that fact doesn't diminish the enjoyability of the season on the way there.

If the championship game hurts anything, it's itself.

Ticket prices, on the original and secondary markets, are reportedly way down, but there are any number of potential contributing factors, some related to Bama and Clemson's dominance. First: If you're either fanbase, following your team has gotten expensive. You've had at least one playoff commitment each year - two if you're Alabama - in the past four. In each case, you've been there before, and there's no reason to doubt you've got a decent shot at returning. Santa Clara is the least accessible for two schools in the Southeast of any of the playoff sites before or to come, so if there were a year to skip, this is it. The location doesn't do the casual fan many favors either: It kicks at 5pm local time, a challenge for anyone, much less in Bay area traffic. Levi's Stadium is a smooth 45 minutes from San Francisco and Oakland each without compounding traffic.

As for the television audience, again, I expect only casuals will drop off. Clemson-Alabama has been a touring heavyweight fight, and at least as far as title games go, this is the rubber match. I have a feeling most fans of the sport will be tuning in.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Bowl Bands: 2019 Division I Football National Championship

At this point, NDSU ought to just get a time share slot in the Metroplex for early January. The Bison are going for championship number seven in eight years. But it was actually Eastern Washington who kicked off the championship's run in Frisco with a 2010 victory over the Delaware Blue Hens.

Eastern Washington:

North Dakota State:

Belk

It may not have been much of a game, but it was quite the day.

I headed south to Charlotte for the Belk Bowl for much the same reason I went to the Belk College Kickoff back at season's start: It was there. But unlike the Belk Kickoff, I actually attended the Belk Bowl.

The day was gorgeous - mid 60s and sunny. So while the weather in North Carolina can be a mixed bag at this time of year, it showed up for two schools who, fair enough, were probably experiencing something similar at home. A noon kick made it a bit of a sprint to get down, parked, and in in time for pregame, but I caught both bands from a lower vantage point than my seats in the upper deck would allow.


Virginia won the game 28-0, scoring a remarkably consistent one touchdown per quarter. Photographers will tell you that despite our love of sunny days, overcast ones actually produce better photographs. The same can be said for non-competitive games. The not full and emptying stadium provided me mobility to see both bands (and oh yeah, the game) from a variety of angles, including directly next to each. I had seen the Carolina Band before, in their house, but had only seen UVA in pep band format, often at the ACC Tournament (and most recently in Charlotte *cough*) Both were most impressive in the stands, but their halftime shows - Broadway from SC, Latin pop from UVA, were also enjoyable. From my perch atop the north endzone, I could see both shows without having to navigate a "home" vs. "away" orientation.

While I missed any pregame tailgating, I do have a new Charlotte football tradition (two times makes it tradition, right?) The Unknown Brewing Company sits a few blocks from the stadium, and became my postgame spot for the Belk Kickoff and now the Belk Bowl, where I caught the first half of the first playoff game. At some point I'll venture more thoroughly through their offerings, but perhaps due in no small part to their location, their low ABV, easy drinking beers are forward facing and enjoyable. Last time, the aptly name Pregame Pils was on special (though it was the Bright Ass Tanktop I brought home); this time it was the Feather Light.

Attending this year's Belk Bowl was mostly about scratching an itch. I realized late in the season that I hadn't been to a single game this year, and the Belk Bowl presented the last opportunity. It also made me realize that there's very little reason not to attend this bowl game each year. It was at its most accessible this year on a Saturday, but even barring that, it falls in the sweet spot between Christmas and New Year's Day. Expect to see me there again.

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