ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings

Bethune-Cookman reclaims top spot in latest ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings

Prairie View is now No. 2, and the Blue and Gold Marching Machine of N.C. A&T moves to No. 3

Bethune-Cookman University’s Marching Wildcats have reclaimed the top spot in the third ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings. The Wildcats were the top band in the first rankings of the season in October before being nudged out of the top spot by North Carolina A&T State University.

The Blue and Gold Marching Machine is now No. 3, right behind Prairie View A&M University.

This week’s rankings shuffled the previous Top 10, with Prairie View A&M moving up from No. 3, switching places with N.C. A&T. Alabama State is back in at No. 9, displacing Grambling State, which was No. 8. North Carolina Central drops to No. 10 after being No. 9 two weeks ago.

Unlike football rankings, the judges are looking at new material and performances on each band before each ranking. The evaluations are based on the new music, formations and design for each adjudication.

“This ESPN and Undefeated poll is not about competition but more so about giving positive and educational feedback on how each and every band program can continue to improve,” said Don P. Roberts, executive band consultant for ESPN/The Undefeated rankings.

“[Bethune-Cookman’s] Donovan Wells is one of the senior HBCU band directors with more than 20 years of experience. It should come as no surprise that his program has been ranked in the Top 5 for all three polls thus far. The B-CU band truly is outstanding.”

The rankings identify the top historically black college and university bands from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), the two FCS conferences that will be represented in the 2017 Celebration Bowl in Atlanta.

The rankings evaluate bands on musicality, drill design, percussion, auxiliary corps, drum majors and other key factors. Each week, judges will review video content from a secure site to make recommendations for rankings.

“I firmly believe that this process will have an impact on all HBCU bands in a positive manner. I have always welcomed positive comments from my colleagues,” said Julian E. White, Florida A&M band director emeritus and chairman of the ESPN/The Undefeated adjudication panel. “With the quality of our distinguished adjudicators panel, we now have a forum that will promote consistent improvement with our HBCU bands.”

After each ranking, the top band is featured on ESPN performing the SportsCenter theme song until the next evaluation takes place. Bethune-Cookman gets its second chance on Saturday. N.C. A&T, after being No. 1 in the previous ranking, was featured two weekends ago on SportsCenter.

Rising up in the rankings are Alcorn State, University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Grambling State University, Howard, Texas Southern, Hampton, Morgan State, Savannah State, Delaware State, Mississippi Valley State and the most improved band, Savannah State.

“There is also a new school of young and outstanding band directors from established programs with great history,” said Roberts, “such as Southern, Prairie View, Alabama A&M, Jackson State, Alcorn, Florida A&M and others that are continuing old traditions but also creating new traditions with new ideas and innovations.”

This season’s final ranking will be released in December. In 2018, weekly rankings will be released from the start of the season. This year, only the MEAC and SWAC bands will be ranked. In 2018, all HBCU bands will be included in the rankings.

Keep in mind, there is no offseason for HBCU marching bands. They continue to refine their music, recruit top musicians and perform as concert and pep bands while the auxiliaries, such as the dancers, refine their routines and skills.

The Undefeated will cover it all as the bands march to the 2018 Celebration Bowl and the Band of the Year competition.

Ranking based on Nov. 10, 2017 performance

Top 10 HBCU Bands

Overall Rank Drum Major Drill Design Musicality Percussion Auxiliary
1. +1 Bethune-Cookman 2. 3. 3. 1. 5.
2. +1 Prairie View A&M 7. 6. 2. 2. 1.
3. -2 North Carolina A&T 11. 7. 1. 3. 3.
4. +1 Southern 6. 1. 7. 6. 2.
5. +5 Alabama A&M 1. 9. 6. 11. 4.
6. +1 Florida A&M 4. 4. 4. 5. 21.
7. -1 Jackson State 3. 2. 10. 4. 9.
8. -4 Norfolk State 5. 5. 5. 9. 10.
9. Alabama State 10. 8. 12. 10. 8.
10. -1 North Carolina Central 9. 13. 11. 18. 7.

Drum Major

  1. Alabama A&M
  2. Bethune-Cookman
  3. Jackson State
  4. Florida A&M
  5. Norfolk State

Drill and Design

  1. Southern
  2. Jackson State
  3. Bethune-Cookman
  4. Florida A&M
  5. Norfolk State


  1. North Carolina A&T
  2. Prairie View A&M
  3. Bethune-Cookman
  4. Florida A&M
  5. Norfolk State


  1. Bethune-Cookman
  2. Prairie View A&M
  3. North Carolina A&T
  4. Jackson State
  5. Florida A&M


  1. Prairie View A&M
  2. Southern
  3. North Carolina A&T
  4. Alabama A&M
  5. Bethune-Cookman