Stay tuned: LSU revisits opposing-band policy, may lift it by season opener with colleges watching closely _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG --Drum major Daniel Wendt, of Denham Springs, leads the LSU Golden Band from Tigerland down Victory Hill, a highlight for anyone who carries the baton.

LSU’s year-old policy prohibiting opposing marching bands from performing during halftimes at Tiger Stadium is not a “dead decision,” and the school is assessing a way to lift the policy in the near future, an athletic department official says.

Meanwhile, the college marching band world has its collective eyes on Baton Rouge, one longtime band director said.

Eddie Nunez, LSU’s deputy director of athletics, said athletics officials plan to meet with members of the school’s risk management team soon to devise a safer plan for the cramped sidelines, allowing the school to lift the policy — potentially ahead of the upcoming season.

“We’re still looking at this. This is still being assessed,” Nunez said this weekend. “This is not a dead decision. This is something we’re actively looking at, going to be meeting with risk management again. We’re going to try to do what we can to make this work. If we can, we will try to make it work. We would love to continue the pageantry.”

Risk management officials recommended the school prohibit opposing bands from playing at halftime, a policy enacted last season and something that seeped out publicly last week. The move incited a wave of backlash toward the school from the tight-knit band community and college football fans.

“Everybody in the college marching band world knows about this,” said Steve Peterson, director of bands at Illinois, “and we’re watching very closely.”

In an interview over the weekend, Nunez reaffirmed the reasoning behind the policy: safety issues regarding LSU’s small sideline space. To prepare for their halftime show, the 200-plus members of the opposing band leave their seats in Tiger Stadium’s lower bowl about halfway through the second quarter and stand on the sideline.

At the same time, LSU’s 300-plus-member band, the football team, television cameras and equipment and other media members are on a sideline that has shrunk over the years, Nunez said.

There have been incidents involving opposing band members, Nunez noted, but he declined to reveal specifics.

“Risk (management officials) looked at this because of a couple of situations that have happened in the past — very close situations, things considered something we needed to keep our eye on,” he said. “They asked us to look at this. If you remember, a year and a half ago, we went and added a fence behind our home team bench. It was part of this whole situation, trying to create a buffer.”

The incidents have not involved LSU band members, Nunez said.

“There are some situations, not between band to band,” he said.

“Usually the band communities are very cordial. They work well with each other. That’s never been a problem. Again, it goes back to some safety issue we’ve had in that small space.”

LSU isn’t the only school with such a policy, said Patrick Dunnigan, president of the College Band Directors National Association and director of Florida State’s marching band for the past 25 years. Others have a similar policy, but none of those schools has the stature of LSU.

“They don’t tend to be ones that have outstanding football and marching band traditions that LSU certainly has. You might expect a decision like this from a smaller school, a school that’s not a perennial powerhouse,” he said. “LSU is always a contender for national football with a long and rich band tradition and a fan base that appreciates the pageantry of college football.”

LSU instituted this policy before last season, informing visiting schools before the season, Nunez said. The Tigers hosted McNeese State, Auburn, Eastern Michigan, Florida, Western Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas A&M last season. The Aggies brought their full band last year, Nunez said, because of a miscommunication.

“Part of that was our fault,” Nunez said. “We take responsibility. The message didn’t get to the right people. They had planned a year in advance to (perform at halftime). When they got wind of (the new policy), they felt it was a little bit later than it needed to be. We had good conversations with their administration. They didn’t like it, but they understood our situation.”

Nunez estimates that “one to two” opposing bands performed at halftime each season before the school enacted the policy last year.

LSU’s policy, if not reversed, is likely to affect the size of traveling bands. Jacksonville State band director Ken Bodiford told Montgomery, Alabama, television station WSFA that he will not bring JSU’s band to the Sept. 10 meeting with the Tigers, LSU’s home opener.

Alabama will no longer take its full band to LSU games, either, according to a Facebook post from the co-director for Alabama’s Million Dollar Band.

“I’m scared to death about the slippery slope it might lead us on,” said Illinois’ Peterson, past president of the College Band Directors National Association and a 30-year marching band veteran.

“That will change the entire mood of SEC football games. Why would the bands come anymore? And will other SEC schools do the same because they don’t want LSU playing at their stadiums now?”

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.