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.