The Band wants the field

The start of this week brought the excellent news of Wisconsin’s going to the Holiday Bowl in nearly-always-sunny San Diego to play Southern California.

That was followed by this not-excellent news, reported by the Badger Herald:

The University of Wisconsin marching band will have a not so happy holidays after 90 freshmen and several band directors are being denied the trip due to spending cuts.

Earlier this week the UW Athletic Department announced they would only fund travel expenses for 225 band members out of the nearly 325 member band, John Lucas, UW spokesperson said in a statement. This means the other members will not travel to San Diego when UW plays University of Southern California in the Holiday Bowl Dec. 30.

The Athletic Department has supported the band and provided millions of dollars for them to travel to major athletic events, Lucas said. Some of these events include bowl games, NCAA tournaments and the Alabama game in Dallas earlier this fall.

“[UW] is also committed to fiscal responsibility,” Lucas said. “That philosophy dictates that bowl travel parties, including the band, will vary in size depending on the bowl game and the level of travel expenses for individual destinations.”

Though the Athletic Department determined the number of members they would fund, it was left to the band directors to determine which members would be included in that 225 group, he said.

The band directors decided freshmen and several band directors would not be able to make the trip, Wendy Margolis, UW band administrative coordinator, said.

“You can tell everybody has been very distressed about it,” Margolis said.

Dani Wetter, freshman and band member, said she knew it was serious Tuesday when UW marching band director, Mike Leckrone turned off his microphone during practice.

“As soon as he said there wasn’t enough space on the chartered flight for freshmen and not enough funding to charter another, I felt my heart sink in my chest,” she said.

Wetter said upperclassmen band members were moved to fill in the holes freshman left in the show. Many of them, Wetter said, also felt disappointed after hearing the news and comforted the freshmen.

Marching band directors have since been in communication with the Athletic Department to ensure this does not happen again in the future, Margolis said.

Though the band directors have been communicating with the Athletic Department about the trip, changes are unlikely.

Everyone appreciates the efforts and long tradition the UW band has established, Lucas said.

“We appreciate the band’s presence at athletic events and look forward to a great trip to San Diego,” Lucas said.

The UW Athletics Department did not respond to request for comment.

To say that band alumni are irate would be a huge understatement. That includes the band members who went to no bowl games because the football team was so bad for so long. (The Badgers played in no bowl games between the 1963 and 1980 seasons and between the 1984 and 1993 seasons. I went to one bowl, the 1984 Hall of Fame Bowl.)

It’s strange that the bowl organizers would think this is OK. The bowl organizers are banking on thousands of Badger fans to come to the game. The band has been a big reason why UW has gotten some bowl games despite the football team’s less-than-sterling record. (Including the aforementioned Hall of Fame Bowl.) Certainly the parents of the freshmen band members aren’t likely to go to the game now.

It also seems to be poor financial planning to not have covered the likely cost of the entire band for a bowl game. UW had to have known that, with the new Big T1e4n tie-in to the Holiday Bowl, that a trip to San Diego might have been possible. As it is since UW didn’t get to the Big T1e4n football title game (unlike last year), that should have left some travel money available. Yes, the Band went to the Alabama game in Jerry World, but the Athletic Department knew about that game well in advance. One wonderes what would have happened had, as some predicted before the season, UW gotten to the Rose Bowl.

The only mitigating factor here is that, given the fact the football team has been going to bowl games for nearly 20 consecutive years, the chances of this year’s freshmen going to a bowl game in the future are pretty good. But nothing is guaranteed, particularly given that next year’s UW schedule is considerably more difficult than this year’s.

The bigger insult here is to UW Marching Band director Mike Leckrone, who surely deserves better than having to take part of his band to a bowl game. (Southern Cal will surely have its entire band there, although its trip just requires several buses down Interstate 5.) For that matter, it’s not guaranteed Leckrone will necessarily be back, because he’s been the band director since 1969 and nothing is forever.

Mitch Henck adds:

Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, who must have signed off on this decision, apparently has forgotten the number of people who came to his games when his team was bad, before the 1994 Rose Bowl.

For instance, 1991, when the Badgers finished 5–6 and went to no bowl. This is from the last game of that season, when Badger fans knew going into this game there would be no bowl trip, yet 38,620 showed up to watch.

It’s also the height of arrogance to decline public comment, on which Alvarez also surely signed off.

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