KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The Pride of the Southland Band feels marginalized on game day.
Tennessee thinks some of the band’s complaints are disingenuous or just plain dishonest.
The battle played out Wednesday in a series of public statements that center on the game-day atmosphere at Neyland Stadium. Our Megan Boehnke wrote a great story about the controversy that is available to News Sentinel subscribers.
Here are the Cliff’s Notes:
* The band brought the controversy into public view with a petition on Change.org followed by a two-page statement distributed by band director Gary Sousa.
The band claimed, among other grievances, that UT was limiting its time to play in favor of canned music over the public address system, turning the college atmosphere into an NFL one.
* UT answered back with a detailed statement of its own, either refuting or downplaying many of the band’s complaints.
* Sousa then talked to the News Sentinel and Daily Beacon (David Cobb wrote a great story you can read here) and added more to fuel to the fire.
“That’s probably the issue that really ignited our alumni in reacting the way they did. For anyone to use prerecorded music while a live musician is in the stadium is very disrespectful to musicians…They’re basically telling these kids to go home.
“It’s just one of those things where you can only get pushed so long and then the students just said, ‘We’ve had enough, why are we killing ourselves to be out here when we’re basically being pushed out.’”
Sousa also was critical of athletic director Dave Hart, calling his relationship with the band “non-existent.” That’s compared to good relationships with earlier ADs.
* Senior associate AD Chris Fuller, who spoke extensively to the News Sentinel, said that’s about right, which makes it strange that Sousa is trying to personalize the issue.
“The assertion that there’s been a bitter battle with Dave Hart is really interesting since Dave Hart has had hardly any communication with Dr. Sousa at all.”
Fuller also said the band hasn’t exactly been a team player, skipping out on the weekly game day production meetings. University officials were also a bit miffed that the band decided to air its grievances publicly without even attempting to work things out more amicably.
Fuller said he talked about the game day atmosphere with Sousa about a month ago.
“He gave us a tour of the new building, we hit on all those issues, everything is sunshine and light, and that’s not my definition of antagonistic or bitter.”
* What’s next? The band has a large and passionate alumni base, but in my experience picking a fight with athletics is always a losing battle.
The bigger picture question has to do with the game day atmosphere itself: Is it becoming too much of an NFL-style atmosphere, forgoing college traditions? Or is it necessary to rev up the crowd with some modern touches?
The next home game is Oct. 19. Stay tuned.