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Friday, December 27, 2019

Bowl Bands: 2019-20 College Football Playoff Semifinals

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The stage has long been set, and the College Football Playoff will soon be underway. The top four teams in the nation will fight for a chance to play for the championship trophy, and they'll be bringing their bands with them.

This year's field is as stacked as any in the playoff era, with three of the four bands holding Sudler Trophy honors, and all having a strong tradition that includes competing in either the College Football Playoff or the BCS Championship in the past decade.

Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl
This year's 1/4 matchup pits the 1 seed LSU Tigers against the #4 Oklahoma Sooners. LSU is the newcomer to the Playoff, though they played for a BCS championship following the 2011 season. LSU's Golden Band from Tigerland last marched in Mercedes Benz Stadium earlier this month in the SEC Championship. Conversely, Oklahoma has never played a game in the state of Georgia, and oddly enough, had never even played a team from Georgia before the 2018 Rose Bowl, so it's safe to assume this will be the first trip to the Peach State for the Pride of Oklahoma as well.



PlayStation Fiesta Bowl
The interior seeds will meet in the desert as #2 Ohio State faces #3 and defending national champions Clemson. Both programs have tasted glory in the playoff era, with Clemson winning two of the last three and Ohio State having taken the first one. These two programs met following the 2016 season with the seeding reversed in the same bowl game, so it's not unreasonable to assume there are members of both the Ohio State University Marching Band and the Band that Shakes the Southland who were part of both matchups. TBDBITL has to be hoping for a better matchup than their last meeting, which eliminated Ohio State from playoff contention to the tune of 31-0.

Ohio State:


The winners of each semifinal will meet in the championship game in New Orleans on Monday, January 13, 2020.

Celebrate the Culture

For the past five seasons, the bowl schedule has included one departure from the Football Bowl Subdivision: From the FCS ranks, the MEAC and SWAC champions have met in the Celebration Bowl to determine the HBCU national champion. Since the bowl's inception, a chorus emerges from the woodwork each year to chide the MEAC and SWAC for not competing for the "real" championship by participating in the FCS playoffs. If I'm perfectly honest, I was among them, briefly, early on.  But the Celebration Bowl is in concert with college football's rich traditions in a way that we'd be worse off without.

For starters, let's not kid ourselves about the sanctity of the "real" championship. College football has been unable to agree on its champions since its inception. At the sport's highest level, it took until the 146th season to enter into something that can be reasonable called a playoff, and while it's more inclusive than its predecessor, the BCS, it is still not without its flaws. Throughout the overwhelming majority of the sport, the champions have been crowned by polls. The Black College Football national champion has been no different in this respect. There have been previous attempts to settle it on the field, but the Celebration Bowl represents the first time the MEAC and SWAC champions meet by contract, with the playoff being the primary obstacle in the past.

And yet, very little has changed with regards to HBCU participation in the FCS postseason. While opponents may wish to imagine a grand HBCU secession from the playoffs, the reality is far less complicated. The SWAC has always prized its own product over the playoffs, and with the Turkey Day Classic, Bayou Classic, and their own championship game to consider, they simply couldn't be bothered to participate in the playoffs. The MEAC no longer sends its champion to the playoffs, but the conference is still eligible for at-large bids, and has received one in the Celebration Bowl era, with North Carolina A&T representing the conference in 2016.

"But isn't the Celebration Bowl and the decision not to send its champion to the playoffs just an admission of HBCU inferiority?" the common refrain goes. Make no mistake - HBCUs are historically and systemically underresourced - by design.To pretend that any shortcomings in athletics aren't a symptom thereof is simply ignoring both historical fact and present reality. Yet still, HBCUs are competitive to exemplary in virtually every way, especially as it relates to educating black students, where their PWI peers at all levels often fall short. While it's not systemic in the same way, claiming HBCUs "can't compete" is the same half-truth as claiming that Group of Five teams "can't compete" while ignoring the imbalance with which they are operating. Ironically - and  by no means should this be the goal - the payouts and resources afforded by participation in the Celebration Bowl could be used to close the gap in a way that makes programs competitive with perennial playoffs powers.

But the Celebration Bowl's primary purpose isn't too different from that of other bowls: reward and exposure. The Celebration Bowl provides much more of this for its participants than they could ever hope for in the FCS playoffs. Its inclusion in ESPN's Bowl Mania alone is more coverage than the FCS Playoffs tend to get, despite the semifinals taking place on the same day. Because it's part of the overall bowl schedule, other media have to account for it as well, ensuring that they have to at least prepare a one liner about the likes of A&T or Alcorn State. The Celebration Bowl's media deal - a noon Saturday kick on ABC - is as good as the FCS Championship, with the added benefit of not competing for time and attention with the NFL Playoffs of the College Football Playoff championship. And a MEAC or SWAC champion playing the other is far more meaningful than a December matchup against a fellow FCS program. The last playoff game I attended was Delaware-DelState, a historic matchup between a pair of state schools held apart for the entirety of their existence by the same systemic exclusion that created HBCUs in the first place. A game of this import in the first round of the playoffs is the exception that proves the rule. Far more often, there’s little intrigue for the matchup beyond both teams wanting to survive and advance.

But above all else, the Celebration Bowl is for the culture. In much the same way the NCAA basketball Final Four becomes the epicenter of all things college hoops, including the coaches' convention, the Celebration Bowl becomes the center of HBCU activity for a weekend in Atlanta. ESPN's sports and culture arm, The Undefeated, gets to run point on much of the weekend's coverage. Divine Nine fraternities and sororities have a presence up to and including national leadership. The seating map for the game explicitly states where both bands will be seated - an important detail. Luster Products is a major sponsor. The NFL hosts its football career forum aimed towards HBCU students. And of course, the game ends properly with a 5th Quarter. Instead of tying themselves to a product that wasn't created with them in mind, the MEAC and SWAC went with a bowl tie-in that served them best, much as major conferences have been doing. And that is a cause for Celebration.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

#CMB150 - The Podcast

This season, as we commemorated the 150th anniversary of college football, I put together a podcast discussing college football's presence during the sports century and a half. It was released earlier this fall as eight episodes in five weeks (get it?) plus a trailer and "halftime" bonus episode. You can give all of the episodes a listen here or on your favorite podcast app.

Introducing CMB150: From the Goal Line
Episode 1 - No Counterpart Anywhere in the World
Episode 2 - The Music That Moves Us
Episode 3 - Ya Gotta Have Style
Episode 4 - Anatomy of a Marching Band
Halftime Bonus Episode - The Professor William C. Moffit Collection
Episode 5 - The Sudler Trophy
Episode 6 - Maestro
Episode 7 - Inside the Band Room
Episode 8 - For The Culture

Monday, December 23, 2019

Head Bull Coach

Courtesy of
Nine years ago, following the 2010 college football season, USF and Clemson met in Charlotte in what is now the Belk Bowl. In 2019, as USF licks its wounds from a 4-8 season and Clemson prepares to compete for its third College Football Playoff championship in four years, it's safe to say their paths have diverged. But USF may just be getting a taste of the orange.

On December 9, 2019, USF announced Jeff Scott as USF's fifth head football coach. Scott was on the Clemson sideline during that bowl game as a Clemson wide receivers coach, and joins the Bulls most recently from a stint as co-offensive coordinator for Clemson. The Arcadia, FL native is returning home to lead a program he has reportedly had his eye on for a while. USF and Scott didn't find one another during the opening that brought us Charlie Strong, but the Bulls have now invited Scott to lead the program. Scott is now in the process of rounding out his staff and finishing out the year's recruiting.

For the best coverage of USF, be sure to visit The Daily Stampede.
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