What Is March Madness Without the Bands?

INDIANAPOLIS — In a traditional 12 months, when a participant sinks a buzzer-beating shot in a N.C.A.A. tournament game, tens of hundreds of followers erupt in celebration.

This 12 months will show to be a bit quieter, even when the venue is bigger.

The males’s Final Four match will happen at Lucas Oil Stadium, a 70,000-seat enviornment house to the N.F.L.’s Indianapolis Colts. The crowd can be capped at 25 p.c of capability, with followers masked and seated in socially distanced pods of two, 4 or six. And the space reserved for every 29-member band can be empty.

“I understand the N.C.A.A’s decision,” Jake Tedeschi, 22, a senior tenor saxophone participant in the No. 1 seed University of Illinois’s basketball pep band, stated in an interview on Thursday. “But man, I wish I could be there. I’m hoping they’ll reconsider for the Final Four.”

But now, that dream is dashed, too.

After beforehand excluding bands solely via the Elite Eight, an N.C.A.A. affiliate director of communications, Christopher Radford, stated in an e-mail on Friday that no bands could be allowed at any of the video games in both the males’s or ladies’s N.C.A.A. basketball tournaments this 12 months.

The choice, he stated, was based mostly on health and security protocols developed with native health authorities, which “led to reductions in the size of official travel parties and limits on overall capacity in venues.”

The six Indiana venues that may host this 12 months’s video games, he stated, will nonetheless play college battle songs and anthems. They will display screen cheer video performances, and different band music can be in rotation.

But the honking tubas and energy-building improvisation of pep bands are what attracts many followers to the faculty game — they’re the antithesis of the N.B.A.’s reliance on canned noise to punctuate large blocks and thunderous dunks. And bands have an much more essential function in the N.C.A.A. match, Barry L. Houser, the director of the University of Illinois’s marching and athletic bands for the previous 10 years, stated.

“There’s nothing like live music to bring a stadium or arena alive,” he stated in an interview on Thursday. “The playing of a fight song after a great play or going into a hot timeout after an amazing play for the team can really get the crowd riled up.”

Tedeschi, the University of Illinois band member, believes a band can “absolutely” change a game.

“We scream a lot,” he stated. “And, especially late in the game, we do our best to distract the other team’s players.”

But pep band gamers aren’t simply keen about college battle songs or “Sweet Caroline” — they’re a few of the greatest basketball followers in the enviornment and the spark that ignites most scholar sections.

“The chance to travel with the team and be their number-one supporter is a big reason I do athletic bands,” Tedeschi stated. “It takes time away from my other coursework, especially when we’re traveling more, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. It’s near and dear to my heart.”

But seniors like Tedeschi won’t ever get the likelihood to play at an N.C.A.A. match game —- a giant a part of why he joined the pep band his freshman 12 months, he stated. (The Illini didn’t make the males’s or ladies’s N.C.A.A. match his first two years, and the pandemic derailed final 12 months’s video games.)

He understands the N.C.A.A.’s choice to ban bands in the first two rounds, however thinks they might have been allowed for video games later in the match. “The bracket is smaller, and fewer teams’ bands would show up,” he stated. “It would mean less other fans, but for seniors, it’s the only chance we have. Mid-major teams don’t make it every year.”

Michael Martin, a 21-year-old senior at Ohio State who performs snare and bass drum in the pep band, has by no means been to any of the N.C.A.A. tournaments. And he’s now missed his likelihood.

“I prepared myself for it,” he stated. “But I’m still really disappointed. I was looking forward to playing ‘Buckeye Swag’ for everyone.”

Houser, the University of Illinois band director, feels horrible for his seniors — particularly in a 12 months that the males’s staff is a No. 1 seed.

“The teams went through a lot of challenges, and now they’re doing so well,” he stated. “I just wish our students had the opportunity to cheer them on in this situation.”

But having steeled themselves to the actuality of a match with out stay music, band administrators are trying ahead to the coming 12 months with optimism.

Christopher Hoch, who’s in his fourth 12 months as director of the Ohio State University marching and athletic bands, has been persevering together with his athletic bands class, even absent alternatives to play at video games.

“I felt it was important for students to continue to have the opportunity to play, even though they weren’t necessarily performing at events,” he stated.

Now, Hoch is making ready his college students for the halftime present they sometimes do at the spring soccer game. “We love being there to support the team and university,” he stated. “And I’m hopeful we’ll be able to get back to doing that soon.”

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