Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

A Puzzlement

This isn’t about politics.

Well, it’s not about national, Presidential-level politics. At least not in spite of the first few paragraphs.

It’s a little bit about local politics, but perhaps not the way I’ve set you up to think.

It’s more about dilemmas.

It hasn’t been too often that I’ve stepped into my local voting booth and filled in the little circle for a candidate for President. Much more often, in my lifetime, in a general election, I’ve voted against someone I definitely didn’t want to be President.

It’s said that in primary elections, you fall in love (with a candidate) and you vote with your heart … and in general elections, you fall in line (with your party) and vote with your head, or at least with a bit more recognition that certain things just kinda happen; that things have been done the way things are done … that you’re participating in “politics as usual”.

And sometimes you come out feeling conflicted, and a bit at sea: I wish it were different than it is, but it is what it is, and for all kinds of reasons that aren’t always as pure as “I frickin’ love this candidate and what they stand for and I think they have my personal best interests at heart”.

You’re participating in democracy, as filtered through a party-oriented political system that is, we are forced to admit, almost hopelessly in thrall to money. Therefore you’re participating in a system prone to corruption, even while you are personally against corruption.

You’re often choosing a candidate that you perceive as the lesser of two evils; and you’re often feeling like you’re part of a political setup that is definitely the lesser of two good things.

The grownup, adult world is full of these dilemmas. There are folks who wish to see the world in strictly black-and-white terms; but, sadly, it’s much more grayscale. Takes more thought, more pondering, more head-scratching in the effort to try and see a solution, or a way out, or a way forward.

Which brings me to my alma mater.

Via the good offices of my college band’s alumni association, yesterday I became aware that the UMass Faculty Senate was to vote on a motion to recommend that University administration [1] downgrade UMass football to Division I-A status, or [2] eliminate it altogether. Their reasoning had to do with finances, as well as some other considerations. The motion was voted down, but not before it got me to thinking.

Setting aside for a moment the unlikelihood of the latter [1], within American culture – although my colleagues and I from Boston University in the late 1990s might offer a bit of perspective about killing football programs – and set-ting aside the attractiveness of the former proposal [2] … I will admit to being more than a bit conflicted.

Football has almost always caused me to at least raise an eyebrow. Long before former NFL players were putting it to the NFL that concussions were not just a roster-management nuisance to teams, but were in fact a health crisis generated by the very nature of the sport, I saw football as dangerous to the health of its participants, and let’s face it, a bizarre sport. Football has never been my idea of a great sport to play, myself – I’m pleased that my young nephew is all about baseball – and is assuredly not my favorite sport, period.

On the other hand, as regular readers of The Blogge will know … I did marching band for eight years in high school and college.

The original idea was that American scholastic bands marched because of football games. Then we invented band competitions, so we could have somewhere to perform wherein the spectators were entirely made up of people who cared at least a bit about marching music. But it’s the uncommon ensemble that is deprived of its football context and still thrives. Rarer still is the school marching band that never had a football team to root for, to begin with.

I’m sure that studies have been conducted to determine the adverse effect upon band recruitment of “no football games for your band to play at”, but I can’t quote any right off the top of my head. Do band people care much about that? Would it keep them from continuing to march? (Some of the college bands with whom I have worked have contained people who lived for the exhibitions at high-school band shows, and gritted their teeth all the way through football games. On the other hand, how many people join the Michigan Marching Band and don’t get a little worked up for games against the Spartans or Buckeyes?)

At the same time as I must acknowledge that cutting the football program at a major state university is unlikely … I must also acknowledge that Donald Trump as a major-party presidential nominee was considered most unlikely. So … Starred Thought: never assume anything.

For a brief moment, upon hearing about the vote (before it happened and ended up being a big Emily Litella “never mind!”), I had a Moment: –would the hypothetical axeing of UMass football lead to the end of my beloved Power and Class of New England? If so, at what pace? Via implosion, or erosion?

Now, not just because the motion did fail, but even if it had passed, non-binding as it was … and even if passage had meant something (which current University administration officials appeared to think was highly unlikely anyway!) … in the cold morning light … I’ve decided that I’m not losing sleep over this. (I *am* mixing metaphors like a one-armed bartender.) (And my similes are feeling similar pain, apparently. Sorry.)

After all, if the Boston University Terrier Marching Band could have its football team yanked out from under it (fall 1997; I was there) and still survive and thrive and get into movies and such … then surely the 380-member juggernaut from the Pioneer Valley (with a Sudler Trophy and a DCI-Hall-Of-Fame instructional staff and, dang it, a reputation) ought to be okay. Yes?

I think?

I’m already on record about the decision to move UMass football to Division I (or the BCS, or whatever the folks in charge are calling it). From the get-go, I felt it was among the more ill-considered, more pie-in-the-sky, more arrogant decisions my alma mater has ever made. No need to go into the reasoning behind that opinion, here, since all you have to do is click here and read.

From a strictly football point of view, I never felt there was either the existing interest or even the potentially-develop-able interest (from current students, from local alumni, from the general eastern-Massachusetts public) in supporting Your Alma Mater’s Football Team At Gillette Stadium Squaring Off Against the Mighty ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big-Whoop Famous Football Teams. And (as it became quickly clear) there was hardly a hope of attracting the kind of football talent necessary to keep UMass from being perennially “Your 2-and-10 Minutemen”. Let’s be honest: this is New England. We don’t have anything remotely like Alabama/Auburn – and, at least as importantly, we don’t have anything remotely like Texas high-school football. (Which for many reasons might be just fine, actually.)

Downgrading (or, as I prefer to think of it, returning) UMass to Division I-A would mean that football would be played in the cozy confines of McGuirk Stadium, not the cavernous one-sixteenth-full Kraft Family Canyon. And it would be enjoyed by the relatively small but loyal constituency of western-Massachusetts fans which has been propping up that little UMass football program for decades. It’d be shorter money (you don’t get a big payday from a major network for playing against the University of Maine) … but UMass would get much closer to breaking even. And the student section would be full of kids who actually would be able to roll out of bed at noon and walk down to the game, rather than having to hop a bus at Absurd O’Clock and kill an entire Saturday.

And the relationship between the band and its halftime and postgame audiences would be far less diluted by the physical distance from stands to front sideline. Which, at UMass, has always been a pretty big deal at least as far back as the first time George Parks perched on that narrow concrete rail at the base of the McGuirk home stands. At Gillette Stadium, when the band crashes the sideline, the audience is still in another zip code. At McGuirk, the band crashes the sideline and the audience can see individual band members’ smiles.

One big part of me agrees with the Faculty Senate (if not its tactics). Football is, at best, a double-edged sword – one that benefits greatly from the phrase about tradition that goes, “but we’ve always done it this way”. It often offers more long-term risk than long-term reward for its participants. From the standpoint of concussions alone, some commentators have advocated abolishing the sport altogether, and I grasp their passion on the subject, oh yes I do. And the Division I version of American college football opens its participating schools up to great sweeping plains of temptation and corruption and mistreatment of people and academic hypocrisy that would make a mud bath feel clean and pristine.

But another, equally large part of me knows that a fall Saturday afternoon at halftime is a great place for the Minuteman Marching Band to do its thing.

It is … a puzzlement.

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April 29, 2016 - Posted by | band, BUMB, football, marching band, politics, sports, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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