ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings

Bethune-Cookman, Winston-Salem State are top-ranked HBCU bands

In season two of the ESPN/The Undefeated rankings, all HBCU bands have chance to be showcased

Halftime is game time and it’s time again for the ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings, which rate the top bands from historically black colleges and universities.

This year, the rankings will include bands from NCAA Division I and Division II schools, which include the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (CIAA) and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC).

The rankings, conducted by two panels of current and former band directors with HBCUs roots, evaluate bands on musicality, drill and design, percussion, auxiliary corps, drum majors, and other factors. The Undefeated, ESPN’s digital platform focusing on the intersection of sports, race and culture, will unveil five more rankings this season – in October, November and December.

This year’s ranking panel includes hip-hop artist Jay Rock, whose song “Win” incorporates musical elements from HBCU band music.

This is the second year of the ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings. Southern University’s Human Jukebox finished as the top band last season. Bethune-Cookman was rated No. 1 during a portion of last season, as was North Carolina A&T University. This season, we’re adding rankings for Division II schools.

These initial rankings for the season were compiled based on last season’s finals rankings and performances by bands far this season. The first evaluation was extremely close, especially among the first six bands. Only six points separated first-place Bethune-Cookman from fourth-place N.C. A&T, and only 11 points separated the first six bands. This close scoring illustrates how outstanding the bands are nationwide.

At HBCUs, halftime band performances are an essential part of the football game experience. In some instances, they are a bigger draw than the games. While fans enjoy the excitement of halftime performances, little do they know about the time, preparation, drilling and sacrifice that go into every performance. The bands strive to put on their best performance every game, just like the football team. Each week, judges will review video content uploaded to a secure website to make recommendations for rankings.

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.

Julian E. White, band director emeritus at Florida A&M University, is chair of the MEAC/SWAC judging panel. Harold Haughton, band director emeritus at Virginia State University, heads the SIAC/CIAA panel. The panels include 12 total judges, made up of current and retired band directors.

“When bands are involved in competition during which they are judged by the same pre-existing criteria and the competition is well-organized, they are in a win-win situation,” said Haughton. “All bands have an equal opportunity to come out on top and that makes it a fair event.”

White, the longtime FAMU director, believes these rankings by professional musicians add credibility to the assessment of performances. “HBCU directors appreciate the quality comments and ratings because it brings additional exposure to their band programs,” said White. “The process also provides suggestions to elevate their performances to even greater heights of artistic excellence.”

Don P. Roberts is executive consultant for the ESPN/The Undefeated ranking committee. He is vice chair of the Minority Band Directors National Association and president and CEO of DRUMLine Live Entertainment Group. He has served as executive consultant for movies Drumline, Drumline: A New Beat, was band consultant and coordinator for BET’s The Quad, Beyoncé’s performance at Coachella and Ciara’s most recent video Dose.

“HBCU bands in some instances are just as popular as the football team, and also just as competitive,” said Roberts. “One of the primary goals of the rankings is to bring positive exposure to these outstanding bands while also supporting their musical and educational growth through superior feedback from some of the premier band experts in America.”

First rankings this season

Though Hurricane Florence caused the cancellation of some football games in North and South Carolina last weekend, the judges viewed performances from previous weekends and watched videos of each band in the rankings.

Top 10 Division I Rankings

  1. Bethune-Cookman
  2. Jackson State
  3. Tennessee State
  4. North Carolina A&T
  5. Prairie View A&M
  6. Southern
  7. Florida A&M
  8. Norfolk State
  9. Alabama A&M
  10. U. of Arkansas, Pine Bluff

Top 10 Division II Rankings

  1. Winston-Salem State
  2. Fayetteville State
  3. Virginia State
  4. Miles
  5. Albany State
  6. Tuskegee
  7. Elizabeth City State
  8. Morehouse
  9. Fort Valley State
  10. Benedict

Bethune-Cookman University

Jackson State University

Winston-Salem University

We want fans, HBCU alumni and students to share what you think about the rankings on The Undefeated’s social media platforms:


Band judging criteria

Drum Major: Conducting, baton carriage, utilization of space, marching technique, accuracy and definition, style, and discipline.

Drill and Design: Intervals and spacing; creativity; marching style; precision in timing, definition of patterns, showmanship, instrument carriage and showmanship.

Musicality: Tone, intonation, balance, technique, consistency of style, interpretation and musical effect.

Percussion: Rudimental excellence, general appearance, showmanship, technique/stick control, drill execution, style consistency and discipline.

Auxiliaries: Dance/flag routine, baton/flag carriage, utilization of space, marching/strut technique, uniform, style and more.