As Seen On TV (Or Not)

What’s the main difference between NFL and college football? The bands, of course. There’s nothing quite like the pageantry to make college games, especially BCS bowls, more exciting. And even the television studios are noticing (we hope).

Photo by Ed Crockett

Have you ever watched a college football game and wished that instead of talking heads at halftime, you could see the bands march their halftime shows? Or if you’ve marched in a college band, have your relatives complained to you that they watched the whole game and didn’t even see you on TV? Representatives from the four Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games and networks ABC/ESPN and FOX discuss why bands get TV time and why they don’t.

Face Time

The biggest thrill of a bowl game for a college band is probably its field time, meaning its halftime and pre-game field shows. Every BCS bowl allows both bands to march a pre-game show between five and six minutes, depending on the bowl.

The Rose Bowl presented by Citi, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and Allstate Sugar Bowl allow each band a seven to eight minute halftime show while the FedEx Orange Bowl bands do not march at halftime.

“We don’t control the actual broadcast, so we don’t have any guarantees,” says Jay Corenswet, chairperson of the Allstate Sugar Bowl Pageant Committee. “Historically [bands] have gotten some TV time. The FOX network has been gracious and probably afforded them a little more TV time than even expected.”

Unlike regular season games, which almost never cover pre-game or halftime shows, most bowl broadcasts do at least cut to the band briefly when they are on the field.

“We give the network the opportunity to pick from the full performance that the band is on the field,” says Kip Sullivan, chairman of the university band liaison for the Fiesta Bowl. “What the TV takes from there is up to them.”

The Rose Bowl’s Allure

The Rose Bowl works a little differently. The other three BCS bowl games, along with the national championship, are broadcast on FOX while the Rose Bowl is shown on ABC.

“We have a TV contract with ABC/ESPN, so they will show the national anthem and a predetermined number of minutes for halftime,” says Edward Corey, Rose Bowl senior game manager.

This year, each band was guaranteed two minutes of television coverage during halftime. The band whose team is ranked higher acts as the home team for the game and plays the national anthem during pregame.

“All of our participants are always excited,” Corey says. “They are happy that they receive guaranteed TV time on a bowl game that is always so highly rated. I’m told that the Rose Bowl offers the most field time and TV time of any of the bowls.”

The Tournament of Roses started years ago with the famed Rose Parade and added the bowl game later, so bands have always played a major role.

“The Tournament of Roses is a very traditional organization,” Corey says. “They like tradition, and the bands have always been a part of that. We believe that the bands have great excitement and are a great draw for most of the fans.”

Squeezed Out at the Orange

And what about the Orange Bowl, where bands do not march a halftime show? “They don’t have the bands march at halftime,” says Charlie Cleveland, former Orange Bowl volunteer band ambassador. “They got away from that because they usually have an entertainment company that puts on a halftime show. The company would pay the Orange Bowl to do that. It’s a moneymaker for the bowl.”

The Orange Bowl’s Super Bowl-style concerts attract acts such as Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, ZZ Top, Ciara and the Doobie Brothers, which performed this year.

“If you have a band that plays at halftime, you have a band,” Cleveland says. “If you have a different halftime show with bells and whistles that is put on by a professional group, they pay the bowl for the right to do that; they pay for the exposure.”

What About Regular Season?

Beyond field time, bands are frequently shown playing in the stands during both bowl and regular season games. The majority of regular-season college football games that are broadcast on TV are shown on the ABC/ESPN family of networks.

“It’s up to our game staff’s decision about how we want to provide the flavor of the game,” says Ed Placey, senior coordinating producer for ABC/ESPN college football. “The halftime coverage doesn’t belong to us; we throw it back to the studio, and they have other obligations that they’re in charge of.”

For ABC/ESPN games, the halftime coverage is produced by a studio in New York, but in rare cases, the on-site game staff can recommend that they cut back to the stadium. “Normally they have 13 minutes of content time around commercials; sometimes we ask for a minute and a half back if something really special is going on at halftime,” Placey says. “In every show we do, we’re debating what we can show and what’s going to be sacrifi ced. If we want to cover more of the band or something else, we need to determine how to use that time.”

Shots of the band are also dependent on which bands attend the games and how their respective teams are doing. “We don’t like to show bands that aren’t playing,” says Eddie Motl, publicist for FOX Sports. “When a specific team scores, we do like to cut to a band shot because that’s when they’re going to be active, and it provides good sounds and good excitement for the touchdown.”

Placey agrees. “A lot of times when we show the band is right after a touchdown,” he says. “It’s all part of the whole package and what feels right. If a team is losing, we’ll still show [the band] because they might be the only band there. And there are some bands there that are so legendary that you want to give them some attention regardless.”

Bands with well-known fight songs such as Michigan or Georgia Tech or special traditions like Tennessee playing “Rocky Top” are also likely to receive coverage, according to Placey.

Impact On the Band

Dr. Jon Woods, director of marching/ athletic bands at Ohio State University says his band has received extra attention due to its famous pre-game show. “In games throughout the year, we have been fortunate because of ‘Script Ohio,’” Woods says. “Everyone is interested in that, and we’ve gotten on TV a number of times because they are interested in that particular drill.”

According to Woods, a FOX representative announced to him that the network was committed to showing the bands during halftime for all of their bowl games, which they have generally done. “I wrote him a letter and encouraged FOX to continue doing this,” Woods says. “We encourage our parents and students to write [the networks] after the games and show them that people are watching and listening.”

However, FOX’s contract with the BCS will end with the bowl games in January of 2010, and ABC/ESPN has acquired the rights. With this change, viewer feedback could become even more important.

“We get plenty of viewer feedback on every topic under the sun,” Placey says. “We hear from parents that say they want us to cover the band more.”

Motl says FOX has received mostly positive reviews from bands. “Personally, I haven’t received anything negative,” Motl says. “I’ve received a lot of positive reviews of what we do, and I believe that we give the bands as much face time as possible.”

Woods believes that his band has greatly benefited from its good fortune with high profile bowl games and TV time. Being a state school in Ohio, usually students from about five to six different states apply to be in the band. This past year, there were applicants from 21 different states.

“I’m convinced that the television time we’ve been able to get in the past couple of years has had a huge impact on that, as well as the college itself and the education,” Woods says.

However the most rewarding part of a college band’s TV appearance is the joy and validation it brings to the students. “It’s important to the students who are performing,” Woods says. “It’s great for recruiting and shows a great picture that performing in a band is a good thing.”

Can’t Touch This

Regardless of the complicated give-and take system that determines TV time, one thing that everyone across the board agrees on is the extreme importance of marching bands to college football.

“We meet on this every year and talk about it all the time,” Placey says. “It’s one of the unique features that makes college football stand out. In the end if you compare the actual football being played on the field, NFL is always going to win because it’s a professional league, but the one thing the pros can’t touch is going to a college football game and experiencing the atmosphere, and the band is a big part of that.”

Motl agrees. “We really look to show the bands as much as possible because it really gives college football that unique feel,” Motl says. “It kind of reminds people of college and the good times that they’ve had.”

In general, the bands pump up the crowd and add suspense and excitement to a game. “They create an excitement that goes on with the football crowd,” Sullivan says. “The excitement of the music and the drums carries through all people, and the Fiesta Bowl is a strong believer in using that power to get the melody out to many folks.”

In the end it comes down to a delicate balance between all of the different elements involved in college football. While band members and fans may want more band focus, there are plenty of viewers that would like the networks to focus on other things as well.

“It’s more of a discussion of how we can find the correct balance,” Placey says. “Our fans are very involved in college football; they enjoy the discussion and debate about which teams and which players are the best. The bands, the cheerleaders, the tailgating, it’s all a part of it. There’s nothing else like the atmosphere and pageantry connected with college football games. No one part of it is more significant than any other; it’s just all part of the package.”

About the Author

Elizabeth Geli is an editorial intern at Halftime Magazine. She is currently a senior majoring in print journalism at the University of Southern California. She began playing fl ute 11 years ago in her hometown of Placentia, Calif. Now she plays in the USC Trojan Marching Band and has supported the teams at four Rose Bowls, the NCAA basketball tournament and as many other games as possible. She also serves as the band librarian.