College marching bands have been sidelined - literally and figuratively - all season long. As the College Football Playoff championship game looms, we will miss out on a dual Sudler matchup between Alabama's Million Dollar Band and Ohio State's TBDBITL, but there's a halftime to be had that's much farther reaching.
The College Band Directors National Association, in conjunction with partners including CollegeMarching.com, StylePLUS, Halftime Magazine, Guard Closet, and FansRaise, have put together the Intercollegiate Marching Band, presented by GPGMusic and OurVirtualEnsemble.com. The IMB will feature over 1500 students from nearly 200 college bands to perform a virtual halftime show to debut on YouTube as college football crowns its College Football Playoff champion. The ensemble will perform Beyonce's End of Time in a two minute performance set to drop at halftime. And while performing at the championship game has been traditionally reserved for a precious few bands whose football teams reach the pinnacle of the sport, the Intercollegiate Marching Band will feature performers from across all NCAA divisions, the NJCAA, and the NAIA.
While the Rose Bowl contractually obligates ESPN/ABC to show a portion of each band's halftime performance, the Worldwide Leader has followed suit for each of the major bowl games from what was then the BCS since they got broadcast rights back from Fox in the 2010 football season. Still, the two minutes they show have often been clumsy: Despite bands typically performing repeat shows that could be scouted and well produced for the television broadcast, they have instead opted for a midshow chunk with seemingly little more rhyme or reason than checking a box.
In contrast, the IMB will have a performance painstakingly put together by OurVirtualEnsemble.com. Virtual performances have been a necessary mainstay of pandemic life. Virtual Arts sprung up in the wake of the cancelled DCI season to put together a virtual drum corps performance, and continued in to the typical high school/college marching and indoor seasons. And while ensembles would much rather be together, these ensembles both bridge the gap until students are with their respective programs again, and present opportunities never before seen until necessity created it.
I don't know if ESPN has yet announce what they will do for halftime, if they do anything at all other than a studio show. In the past, they have flirted with replacing or counter-programming marching bands at halftime with a Super Bowl style recording artist, and admittedly, with no bands in the building this would be the year to do it. But if they were to pick up the IMB performance, they would solidify a fact that marching bands are an inextricable part of college football, in a year where they've gone sorely missed.
I know what I'll be watching at halftime.