Sour note: Bands don't always get to play on at bowl games
Dec. 18, 2015
There's no question marching bands and cheerleading squads add to the atmosphere at college football games, especially during bowl season.
Heading out to a bowl game with the team is one of the perks to being at school with a winning program. Some bowl organizers require schools to bring along the bands and cheerleaders to add to the pageantry of their games.
Some, not all. As the old cheer goes: Two, four, six, eight — not everyone gets to participate!
Financial and logistical challenges will prevent some bands and cheerleading squads from traveling to the more exotic bowl locations this season.
Their absences will be most apparent on Christmas Eve, which features the only two bowl games outside the 48 contiguous states. This bowl season features a record 41 games.
Cincinnati isn't taking its band or cheerleaders to the Hawaii Bowl, but it is taking a mascot. San Diego State does plan to bring smaller entourage to Hawaii, including 30 band members, eight cheerleaders, six dance team members and a mascot.
Having to miss out on a trip from Ohio to Hawaii in the winter is, well, cold.
Band members at Middle Tennessee and Western Michigan also will miss out on a trip to the Bahamas, though each school will travel part of its cheerleading squad to the bowl game in the Caribbean.
"We looked at maybe trying to bring a pep band and those kinds of things, but actually hotel rooms are really tight on the island," Middle Tennessee athletic director Chris Massaro said.
Sending an entourage to a bowl game can prove quite expensive.
Fresno State athletic department spokesman Jason Clay said it cost over $90,000 for the school to send its band and cheerleaders to last season's Hawaii Bowl.
Western Michigan band director David Montgomery said it took two chartered planes last year to fly the band's 300-plus members to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho.
While bowl officials believe bands and cheerleaders help make a game more of an event, Mid-American Conference spokesman Ken Mather said the Bahamas Bowl is the only game with his conference partners with that doesn't require a band to accompany the team.
Lisa Fortenberry, the pageantry director for the Cotton Bowl, said she often reserves hotel rooms for marching bands up to three years in advance, just to make sure there's enough space available for them.
"If we're going to sign a contract three years out, they're definitely required to come because we've made a commitment to that hotel," Fortenberry said.
Schools frequently get assistance from their conferences to help offset travel costs to bowl games.
Mountain West spokesman Javan Hedlund said the MWC gives each of its bowl teams an expense reimbursement figure that varies "based upon the particulars of the bowl and their respective travel destinations."
Hedlund said it's at the discretion of each school how to manage that money.
Massaro said Conference USA also helps to send bands to bowl games within driving distance; Middle Tennessee received aid for its trip to the 2013 Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas.
But the Bahamas, probably as inviting as any bowl location, presents many challenges. Neither Central Michigan nor Western Kentucky took its band to the inaugural game last year.
Western Michigan athletic director Kathy Beauregard said the school uses a stipend offered by the MAC to help with these types of expenses. Last year the AD said it took that money, and more, to take the band to Boise. But school officials determined sending the 300-member band to the Bahamas would prove too difficult — both logistical as well as financial.
Middle Tennessee and Western Michigan are both sending equipment by freighter to the Bahamas well in advance to make it as smooth as possible when the teams go through customs.
Massaro said that when Conference USA announced that the Bahamas Bowl was a league partner, Middle Tennessee used the NCAA student assistance fund to get passports for its football players just in case they were ever sent to that game.
Beauregard said band members were given a heads up that they wouldn't be going to the Bahamas if that's where the Broncos were sent for their bowl game. Western Michigan President John Dunn even went to band practice the day of the bowl announcement to show his support.
"We had our fingers crossed that everything could work out and we could go, but I don't think we were totally surprised," Montgomery said.
With neither school's marching band at the game, Bahamas Bowl executive director Richard Giannini said the halftime show would include a preview of the musical attractions at the Junkanoo, a Bahamian national festival beginning later that week.
But not all the stockings for band members and cheerleaders will be filled with coal.
Montgomery said despite some the disappointment, "some of the students were a little bit relieved" that they don't have to alter their family holiday plans.
That is an admirable glass-half-full viewpoint with Hawaii or the Bahamas on the table.