In light of negative fan reaction, LSU has abandoned a new policy that banned visiting bands from the football field at halftime.
It did not take long to figure out that LSU could honor the tradition of Southern hospitality and still avoid the threat posed by hordes of marauding musicians.
How dire that threat was, we cannot say, but there had been no reports of concussions caused by a belt on the head with a trombone. The risk of injury always seemed much greater on the field than off it.
Nevertheless, the press reported that “risk management officials” concluded it was asking for trouble to let hundreds of visiting band members mill around behind the sidelines as halftime approached.
One solution that suggested itself to me was that LSU could invite opponents to send a string quartet to Death Valley instead. Then the LSU band could strut away while the Alabama Music Department, say, regaled fans with a little Haydn, Dvorak or Saint-Saens. Not only would that provide a novel counterpoint, but stadium security should have no trouble handling even the wildest cellist from Tuscaloosa.
If this idea had a flaw, it was that college football and marching bands are a natural and traditional match. The game is a battle, the band stirs the blood. String quartets are inspiring too, but generally lack the bellicose spirit.
There is a famous photograph of Huey Long leading the LSU marching band. He must have figured that would win him more votes than a snooty pose between two violists.
So, if string quartets wouldn’t do, maybe LSU could invite Ole Miss to send its jazz ensemble. With 18 players, it is small enough to keep the risk management folks from fretting. If the Mississippians were to play “Tiger Rag,” harmony would doubtless reign.
No, it wasn’t going to happen. It was marching bands or nothing, which left LSU in a ticklish situation. Rescinding the ban would show it was an overreaction in the first place. And simply to leave it in place would only invite retaliation when the Tigers played on the road, leaving its own 325 band members and legion fans disgruntled.
It is unlikely that anyone goes to Tiger Stadium just for the music, but dueling bands are an integral part of the spectacle. LSU evidently was taken aback by the furor aroused by the ban, but really should have seen it coming. According to news reports, “everybody in the college marching band world” was watching, and that’s a lot of people.
LSU had purportedly noticed, after all these years, that there just wasn’t enough space on the sidelines to accommodate visiting band members as they left their seats and prepared to perform. If so, that was because LSU decided to configure the stadium that way. Death Valley, with a capacity of more than 100,000, is one of the largest sports arenas in the world. It would obviously not require much ingenuity to fit in a band without risking life and limb.
Sure enough, LSU, once it became apparent that the ban had provoked nationwide hostility, needed only a day or so to find a solution. Seating areas will be shifted around to give band members unobstructed access to the field. LSU and the visitors will take turns to perform.
It was always obvious that the ban was unnecessary. If you doubt that football stadiums can safely handle a halftime show, take a look at any Super Bowl. The field is more packed than Grand Central Station.
Since marching bands had not been involved in any reported mayhem, it had been widely suggested that a lack of space was not the real reason for the ban. People were alleging that LSU would rather sell tickets than allocate them to visiting bands.
What? Do they think college football is just another big business? Next thing you know, they’ll be saying the scholar-athlete is a myth.
Email James Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org.