In the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (previously Division I-A), schools are moving east and west. As many athletic teams change conferences to position themselves for a chance at major bowl games, the marching bands will be confronted with change, too— new travel plans, new rivals and even new stadiums. But sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Photo of the University of Massachusetts Minuteman Band by Al Graff
Texas A&M to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) from the Big 12! Texas Christian University (TCU) ditching the Big East for the Big 12! Boise State to the Big East from the Mountain West! And Utah and Colorado debut in the Pac-12 (formerly Pac-10), away from the Big 12 and Mountain West!
The collegiate sports world has lately been abuzz with these headlines of conference realignment as a number of schools are switching conferences for more lucrative opportunities for their athletic programs. Many of them are joining so-called power conferences such as the Big East or Big 12 in order to be part of the coveted Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games that are televised nationally.
With all the talk being about the football teams and how they would be affected, what about the marching bands that accompany them? What will happen to the bands as they transition into different conferences, seeing a new crop of bands than the ones they are used to seeing? Will there be any significant changes from previous years?
Away Game Travel
For many of the bands switching conferences, where they go for away games will be a major change. For some bands it means having to travel farther. For the Texas A&M Aggie Band, instead of going to other Texas schools for conference games in the Big 12, they will soon be traveling to the Deep South for games against Ole Miss or Auburn.
“We’re going to be traveling much farther than usual with the move to the SEC,” says Lieutenant Colonel Jay Brewer, senior associate director of bands at Texas A&M. “We’re going to have to go to Auburn or Mississippi and those places take about 10 hours to get to from College Station by bus. We will see how this will impact our expenses when we send a band to these games.”
For the Dallas-based Southern Methodist University Mustang Band, distance could potentially become an issue in regards to actually being able to attend away games in the Big East. “We might be going to fewer away games for football since a lot of the schools are all the way on the East Coast,” says Don Hopkins, director of the Mustang Marching Band. “There has been some talk of just sending a small contingent of the band to some away games, but nothing has come to fruition yet. We’ll still go to the University of Houston since they are moving with us, but it remains to be seen about the other schools.”
The Pride of TCU Band, though, is finding that travel to away games will be much easier with its move to the Big 12. “In the Mountain West Conference, our closest competitors were Air Force and New Mexico,” says Brian Youngblood, director of the Pride of TCU. “Now with the move to the Big 12, we will cut travel costs significantly as we will be playing other Texas schools consistently along with nearby regional schools.”
New Relationships, Old Rivalries?
For a number of bands, this recent realignment reunites schools that used to be in the same conference. For TCU, it would mean seeing old foes in the Big 12 from the defunct Southwest Conference from the early 1990s. “We will be finally renewing some old games when we were part of the Southwest Conference,” Youngblood says. “A lot of the teams that are in the Big 12 such as Texas, Rice and Baylor used to be in the Southwest Conference. We’re looking forward to seeing them all the time in the coming seasons.”
The University of Massachusetts at Amherst will renew its rivalry with the University of Connecticut Huskies (of the Big East) as it moves into the Mid- American Conference from the Football Championship Subdivision. “UMass’ first football game in 2012 will be against UConn and be played in Hartford,” says Dr. Timothy Anderson, director of the UMass Minuteman Marching Band. “UMass and UConn used to play on a regular basis, and it will be great to get that rivalry re-started. As of now, the Minuteman Band is planning on going to the game.”
On the other hand, UMass will no longer be collaborating closely with the University of Delaware (UD) Band. “The UD Marching Band is directed by UMass alumnus Heidi Sarver,” Anderson says. “Both the Minuteman Band and Delaware Band have a history of collaborating together.”
The conference realignments will also end long-established rivalries such as the Lone Star Showdown with Texas and Texas A&M, the Border War with Missouri and Kansas, and the Colonial Clash with UMass and the University of New Hampshire. “With the move to the SEC, we will lose Kansas,” says Dr. Brad Snow, director of the Marching Mizzou Band at the University of Missouri. “It was the second-longest rivalry in existence in college football.”
More Public Recognition
With many schools switching to high-profile conferences, the wide recognition of these conferences could potentially enhance the profiles of the schools’ respective marching bands. In some cases, it changes where the bands will perform. The UMass Minuteman Band will now be playing its shows at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., instead of playing on campus in Amherst. The larger capacity stadium will allow more people to witness the band.
“The move to Foxborough does have some exciting possibilities,” Anderson says. “It gives us an opportunity to create some new traditions and to share our band on a regular basis with UMass fans/ alumni in eastern Massachusetts.”
At TCU, Youngblood expects packed crowds at Amon G. Carter Stadium where fans from Big 12 schools close by are certain to flock.
“There aren’t as many fans from the Mountain West schools around the Dallas- Fort Worth area,” Youngblood says. “Around here, it’s more of Oklahoma fans or Texas fans, so we are certainly expecting a lot of home football games to be sold out as their fan bases come here more often. With that, even more people will be seeing us perform.”
The Basketball Impact
The major conference shifts don’t just affect the marching band on the field but also at the sidelines of basketball games. The basketball band at Southern Methodist is looking forward to cheering on its team in the historically basketball dominating Big East. The new conference allows the band to be sent to new locales.
“Our basketball band always goes to tournaments, and in our current conference, we’ve gone to Memphis or Tulane for them,” Hopkins says. “Now we will be playing pep tunes at the historic Madison Square Garden. We are excited for the atmosphere at a place like that.”
The TCU basketball band is also looking forward to pumping up the Horned Frogs in the similarly basketball rich Big 12 conference although it may take a little more travel than usual.
“Basketball season usually begins when the marching season is already in full swing,” Youngblood says. “The farther distances for the basketball games will bring us a unique set of challenges as our marching band members participate in many ensembles, so we will have to do a lot of schedule juggling.”
With the whirlwind of changes in regards to logistics, a number of bands are intending to keep old traditions and transition them into the new conference. The Nebraska Cornhusker Marching Band recently completed its inaugural season in the Big Ten from the Big 12 and largely continued its normal routine, with the minor exception of sharing pregame shows and halftimes shows at away games.
“We had a wonderful first season in the Big Ten,” says Anthony Falcone, director of the Cornhusker Marching Band. “We had good experiences all around, especially at Michigan where their fans, event personnel and band were very gracious and hospitable to us.”
Texas A&M is also intending on keeping its current style and traditions with its move to the SEC and will remain the same Aggie Band that entertained crowds in the Big 12.
“People always enjoy a precision military-style marching band,” Brewer says. “We will continue to be a militarystyle band when we go to SEC schools. We have gotten standing ovations for our band at away games in the Big 12. Whether that will continue to happen in the SEC, though, remains to be seen.”
For the moving college bands, new settings will be encountered along with new opponents, but the support for the athletics will continue on as usual. “Wherever we go in the new conference, we will continue to support the team and its pursuits,” Brewer says. “We will continue to entertain people who like the traditional marching bands at halftime.”
Note from the Editor: For a full listing of all the Football Bowl Subdivision Conferences and their members, visit Halftime Magazine’s “Web Exclusives.”
About the Author
Jeremy Chen is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism at the University of Southern California (USC). He marched cymbals for two years at Rancho Cucamonga High School before playing bass drum and snare at Upland High School. He is currently a cymbal player and office staff member for the USC Trojan Marching Band. He aspires to one day become a correspondent for the BBC.