I was watching a college football game last week with my dad, Oregon at Stanford. Around halftime, my dad turned to me and asked, "Why do the TV networks never show marching bands?"
He asked because I'm in the marching band at Gettysburg, and I've always loved watching college marching band shows. In high school, we would watch any YouTube video of Ohio State's band that we could find. Once I started going to college and actually paying attention to college football games, I found other bands I liked, such as Georgia, Oregon, and Stanford. So, my dad and I were watching the Oregon-Stanford game in the hopes of getting at least a glimpse at one or both of the bands. But when he asked me that question, I realized my dad was on to something. Every time I had ever seen any college marching band was on a video online. No televised game that I had ever seen showed more than a few seconds worth of the band playing. You could hear them playing throughout the game, but usually the commentators talked over them. And forget halftime. Rather than show the marching band put on a halftime show, television networks cut to studios full of talking heads giving "analysis" of the first half.
My question is: Why?
I understand not everyone is as big a fan of the bands as I am. I remember last year, when CBS Sports' Jim Rome called people in marching bands "dorks running around with their instruments". But marching bands are a unique aspect of college football. Fans may not watch games for the bands, but the bands add to the atmosphere of the game. When a band plays the school fight song, people join in. The reason the bands are there is to energize the team and the crowd.
And the vast majority of people I've talked to genuinely enjoy marching bands at football games. Even the people who aren't in the band or know anyone in the band love having a marching band at games. By playing popular songs during breaks in the game action, the band provides entertainment while the football teams get ready for the next play. This way, no one in the crowd is bored during stoppages of play.
So why not let them play on TV? It's only a few seconds between plays; why not let the band have the spotlight every now and then?
Halftime shows would be a little more difficult, admittedly. The networks would have to show ten uninterrupted minutes of marching band to people who aren't watching the game for the music. My counter-argument is this: Ohio State's band is LEGENDARY. Even people who aren't huge fans of marching bands have at least heard of the Ohio State marching band, and everyone who's actually watched them has been blown away, without fail. Ohio State is a band notorious for precision and perfection, and for doing things that other bands can only dream of doing. The audience for a televised performance by Ohio State's marching band would be HUGE. This would not only be beneficial to the networks, because of the high ratings, but it would help dispel the rumor that band people are "dorks" and raise the profile of marching bands everywhere. And it doesn't need to be limited to Ohio State. Oregon is similarly talented, though not as well known as Ohio State. Alabama may be famous for its football program, but its marching band is similarly strong. USC has a great band as well.
My point is: there are a lot of really good college marching band programs that are never given any television spotlight, even though it would be beneficial for the school, the band, and the television networks. Perhaps, if networks are so cautious about using their precious airtime on marching bands, they could just periodically show a halftime show. Maybe just one Ohio State game could have a band show instead of halftime analysis. The following year, maybe it's Alabama's turn. If people start tuning in to watch the bands, then maybe the networks would get the memo and start showing them more often.
The Super Bowl halftime show is a huge event. A lot of people who would ordinarily distract themselves with other things during halftime of any other football game will watch the show during the Super Bowl. Even the Thanksgiving games have halftime shows that people tend to watch. So what is the argument against marching bands? It's clear that people enjoy watching halftime shows of NFL games; so why not show halftime shows at college games?
Lastly, I know firsthand how much it would mean to the people in the band. I'm in a Division III marching band, and we work hard to make sure we sound good, both in the stands and on the field. Division I programs are even more intense. Ohio State band members plan their course schedule around marching band rehearsals. It's a demanding activity, and to perform well requires a lot of effort. What better way to make all of the effort worth it than to perform for a national audience on live TV?
Most people watch college football games for the football. I watch to see whatever glimpse of the bands I can get. And I hope that I'll be seeing more of them in the near future.