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Charge the marching band? Why Big 12 Conference changed its tune

Big 12 Conference schools will charge league football opponents admission for each member of the visiting school's marching band. Why is this happening now?

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Saying “I’m with the band” is no longer a free pass, at least not for marching band members in the Big 12 Conference, which will be charging visiting teams as much as $100 per seat to play in the stands during college football games.

When the word got out that the University of Texas will charge rival Texas Tech’s marching band for the price of admission when the Red Raiders visit the Longhorns on Nov. 26, fans cried foul. But it was just business, not personal, since the practice affects all of the Big 12 Conference schools.

In July, the Big 12 Conference schools made the decision to charge these fees uniformly, ending a "handshake" deal held by Texas schools in an attempt to try and recoup financial losses as student ticket sales continue to fall nationally and a new ruling on Cost Attendance mandates that student athletes be paid a twice-monthly stipend, in addition to their scholarships.

The Texas Tech “Goin’ band” will have to pay $100 per member, which will likely cost the university between $40,000 and $60,000 to have its 400-plus member band that marches on the field plus members who play only in the stands, perform at that Thanksgiving night game against Texas, according to Robert Giovannetti, spokesman for Texas Tech. The University of Texas did not respond to a request for an interview.

When bands travel to Texas Tech, the cost is slightly less at $75 per ticket.

NCAA compliance expert David Ridpath, an associate professor and Kahandas Nandola Professor of Sports Administration at Ohio University writes in an email, “My first response is it is cheap and wrong for a school to do this.”

“Apparently others have, but for a 100 plus million dollar budget school like Texas, it seems extraordinarily flinty and selfish,” writes Dr. Ridpath. “I think all schools should provide free seats for the band and all should reciprocate. This money grab on everything possible continues to show that college sports are about a business bottom line .... As it continues to happen it will just continue to erode college sports into a total for profit model with employees and not students."

Mr. Giovannetti says in an interview. “This is a Big 12 Conference decision and when UT (the University of Texas) comes here next year we will charge them and any other bands. This was a decision that was made among all the schools in the conference, not just UT.”

The development has its roots in the changeover from when Texas Tech was part of the Southwest Conference where, Giovannetti says, “the schools had a kind of handshake agreement not to charge each other for band tickets to the games.”

When these schools merged with the Big Eight Conference schools to form the Big 12 Conference, “the four Texas schools [Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Texas and Baylor] kept that agreement, while the other schools charged for band tickets.”

“Through the course of time the schools determined, the business managers from the four affected universities, decided in July to go ahead and end that agreement and start charging each other for band tickets which kept it in line with what the rest of the conference was doing,” says Giovannetti. “This isn’t about rivalry, it’s just a business practice.”

He says another factor is that, “Now we have something called Cost Attendance where student athletes are paid twice a month…basically our student athletes will get a check twice every month in addition to their tuition and housing. There were instances where the student athletes couldn’t afford food, for example.”

However, Duane Hill, director of Athletics bands and associate director of bands at Texas Tech, is worried about how this new practice will limit collegiate marching bands from being able to travel, which he says is a major recruiting tool.

“While we are deeply appreciative of the collaborative effort between the President’s Office, Athletics and the College of Visual and Performing Arts for their support with the expenses of this particular game, the biggest concern is for the band to continue to travel and keep that collegiate atmosphere while promoting the band.”

Hill adds, “We just don’t have the money in our budget. Our band students and our program are already financially tapped-out from the costs of travel, hotels, copyrights for the music, uniforms.”

Hill says that, unlike football players and other athletes, band students pay to be in the band. The cost to a new member runs between $400-$600 in addition to paying for credit hours for being in the band.

According to Hill, of the over 400 members in the Texas Tech band only 20-25 are on scholarship, “and they do not get stipends or payments for covering their costs.”

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