|ESPN Events Band of the Year logo|
This one's for the trophy case.
ESPN Events has announced its inaugural Band of the Year National Championship, which will take place December 16, 2023 at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta as part of the Celebration Bowl festivities. The championship event will be the culmination of rankings throughout the season, and will invite four HBCU bands - two from Division I and two from Division II - to the final event in Atlanta.
It will surprise no one I'm excited for the event, albeit cautiously. I'm always thrilled to see bands get the limelight, and with Honda having gone through various states of tradition, this may add a presence to Atlanta. But I'll always be cautious around band coverage from ESPN. I do know they've used a truly expert panel in the rankings that have been under the Undefeated/Andscape banner for the past few years, so that methodology gives me hope. I am also intrigued by some of the terminology surrounding the event. Their mention of (presumably NCAA) Division I and Division II would bar participation from programs like Talladega and Langston who compete in NAIA. The press materials themselves make no mention of specific conferences, but a signup form specifically mentions the MEAC, SWAC, CIAA, and SIAC. While these conferences are composed entirely of HBCUs, there are now more HBCUs than ever outside of those conferences, including Tennessee State's longtime membership in the Ohio Valley Conference and more recent shifts including Hampton and A&T in the Colonial.
But perhaps what I want to see most is how this event fits into the Worldwide Leader's ongoing coverage and landscape of college football, including HBCUs. While the 2023 event is billed as the inaugural, the schedule gets a good deal busier in the years that follow. For years, the Celebration Bowl has stood alone amidst major college football's schedule, a week after Army-Navy and at the outset of bowl season. Starting in 2024, that weekend will have company in the form of the opening round of the 12 team College Football Playoff. The announced schedule has the playoff starting on what would be the very Friday evening occupied by the Band of the Year National Championship. And while it's unlikely to be a conflict in terms of venue - opening round games will be at campus sites - the start of the 12 team playoff will certainly take all of the attention.
Much like college football, the hoisting of a trophy won't prevent plenty of varying opinions on who truly is the band of the year, but there will be one band with the hardware to back it up.
More information on the upcoming competition can be found at https://espnbandoftheyear.com/