HBCUGameday.com founder Steven Gaither writes today about a recent decision from the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) to prohibit halftime marching band battles during regular season football games.
The CIAA has been a groundbreaker in athletics since it was founded back in 1912. The first conference to serve as a home for black college sports, it has been leading the way for HBCU 125, commemorating the 125th anniversary of the first game between HBCUs, Livingstone and Johnson C.
The new rule, shared through an email to conference member schools, puts CIAA institutions on notice that visiting bands will not be allowed to play during the 20-minute break between the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third quarter. The reason? So that both teams can better guarantee timelier starts to the second halves of games.
The CIAA blocking visiting bands from performing at halftime is an overreaction to the NCAA’s rule, one that the Athletics Director Association signed off on. One would think that with its teams struggling to attract fans at the Division II level that the ADA would do whatever it could to get butts in the seats, and bands surely help that. Then again, many of the bands in the conference are struggling for funding and their numbers are dwindling, so perhaps they were under pressure to alleviate the travel costs.
Teams will be allowed to battle prior to or after games. To many fans, that’s simply not going to be enough and is a major violation of HBCU football game day culture. They may strike back with lower attendance, negative reaction in the press, and falling revenues.
But they would be wrong to do so. Because the savviest of presidents, chancellors and athletic directors will use the forced halftime band battle ban to do something all of our schools should have done generations ago – monetize halftime.
Home fans will still get to see their bands march and perform, which is what the majority of fair-weather supporters pay to see anyway, and will leave after they get their marching band fix. The majority of marching band consumption isn’t done in half-filled HBCU football stadiums anyway – it’s done on YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram in small bytes of sound and pageantry.
And we don’t monetize that either.
Sponsored time during an athletic contest is the only time that matters – time for check presentations to donors and corporations, fan engagement contests and initiatives – all of which can be purchased and branded by some entity with more money than our institutions, hoping to reach the few thousand fans we can pack in on a weekly basis, and the tens of thousands of fans we draw during homecomings and classics.
Black colleges have done such a poor job of using marching band culture and allegiance as an economic driver for our institutions, that we should be celebrating the fact that a part of our treasured culture can be moved aside so that we can finally do something more productive with the time and with building institutional capacity in mind. HBCU marching band culture is big and renowned enough that it should be grossing millions for the student musicians and faculty carrying the culture on their shoulders with countless hours of sacrifice.
But instead of thinking entrepreneurially about our culture, we’d rather argue about the right to see two bands cram shows into a 20-minute slot, knowing that result has typically been two football teams waiting to get back onto the field after halftime while the home band runs off the field under threat from referees?
We can complain about the CIAA’s move, or we can use it to make the case for the CIAA to become a more robust sports product. The choice has been made by the schools – here’s hoping that CIAA leaders and fans are smart enough to embrace it as an asset for, and not an onslaught against, our treasured sports culture.