With the Nittany Lions headed for a championship bowl game with top-ranked Alabama following Penn State's trouncing of rival Michigan, the decision announced today banning the university's marching band from any post-season bowl performances was a real downer for both the band and Penn State fans. The NCAA Band Directors Association edict, based on recruiting violations by band officials over a span of several years, was made known to band members during halftime of Saturdays game, and was the strongest punishment ever imposed on a college band.
"After four long years of banishment from post-season appearances as a result of penalties imposed on the football team, our musicians were already looking forward to that national championship game with Alabama. Bandsmen everywhere live for that annual trip to a bowl game. That won't happen again while these kids are at Penn State," said band director James Franklin. "We lost most of our top flight musicians who transferred to other schools following that 2012 sanction on the team. It took us all that time to rebuild the band. Now this!"
Already, rumors of transfers abound, sanctioned by the NCAA band directors' association in a statement allowing transfers at this late date in the current semester and permitting the offering schools to lavish huge scholarships on transferring musicians.
The party at the band's quarters under Beaver Stadium following the victory over Michigan was notable for the absence of several musicians. Noticeable among the absentees was John Phillips, sousaphonist. A commanding figure at 6 feet 5 inches, 250 pounds, Phillips was sought by band directors throughout the country when he graduated from Stamford, Conn., high school two years ago. His special talent, the ability to quadruple tongue on the tuba, drew the attention of band directors everywhere. Originally destined for Cal Poly, Pomona, it was only after signing a letter of commitment that he discovered the school had no football team. "The band director promised I could dot the i in the Cal Poli signature spellout. It was only later I learned they didn't play football and 'Poli' was spelled with a y."
Heavily recruited by Nittany Lion band alumni, Phillips agreed to come to State College only when band directors gave him a written statement that the band would spell out "Pennsylvania" at half time of each home game. They also assured him the state's name was spelled with an i as well as a y. Reportedly, Phillips is headed to Berkeley rather than Ohio State. At Cal, his family says, they see a bright future for him in the band. The fact that the state name contains two eyes instead of one may have been the deciding factor in his choice of Cal rather than Ohio State.
The sousaphone section is likely to be especially hard hit. In addition to Phillips, five others have been offered scholarships to dot eyes in far-flung places. Left are four inexperienced freshmen and a "true sophomore" with little experience. None stands six feet and privately the tuba coach winces when he imagines any one of them prancing out to dot the i. "Fortunately, we won't be on national TV at a bowl game this year. Or next year. Or..." He stopped in mid sentence.
Recruiters from California, USC, North Carolina State and several other bands were at State College today, still making offers to "student musicians" and coaching them on how to justify their late entry into such major schools by claiming "special talent." One trumpeter was urged to tell the admissions officer that he could play the "Minute Waltz" in forty seconds while doing flips on his skateboard.
"Our hope for the rest of this year," said a source high in the band organization, "is with 'walk-ons,' kids who played in junior high bands but weren't interested in music in high school. A flock of scholarships, including many that would have gone to those transferring elsewhere, might lure some of them back to a band."
"Don't worry about any protests during the National Anthem," said director Franklin. "We may not have enough musicians next week to play it."