ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings

N.C. A&T and Miles College are the new top HBCU bands

In the second rankings of the season, both schools move from No. 4 in their divisions to No. 1

It’s time for this season’s second ranking of the ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU bands, and we have new top schools in both categories.

The new top bands are the North Carolina A&T Blue and Gold Marching Machine in the Division I rankings and the Miles College Purple Marching Machine in the Division II category.

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

N.C. A&T was No. 4 in the season’s first rankings Sept. 19 and made its move to No. 1 overall because of its rankings in percussion and auxiliary (the Golden Delight) and the No. 2 spot in drill/design. Likewise, Miles went from No. 4 in Division II to No. 1 because it was judged tops in musicality, drill/design and percussion.

The ratings are conducted by two panels of current and former band directors with HBCU roots who evaluated more than 40 bands on musicality, drill and design, percussion, auxiliary corps, drum majors and other factors. Feedback from the judges is provided to the bands so they can use that to help improve their routines.

This is the second year of the ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings. This season’s first ranking had Bethune-Cookman as the No. 1 Division I band, while Winston-Salem State was tops in the Division II rankings. The Undefeated, ESPN’s digital platform that focuses on the intersection of sports, race and culture, will have five other rankings this season — three more in October, plus November and December.

The initial rankings on Sept. 19 were compiled based on last season’s final rankings and performances by bands so far this season. The current evaluations were done after viewing the bands in person and watching videos of their performances the past two weekends.

In our rankings, judges evaluate different areas. If a band director judges musicality one week, he could move to drill/design the following week. Having a different set of eyes and ears reviewing the bands each week makes for movement in the rankings. In the SWAC and MEAC, Texas Southern was the only new band to join our Top 10. On the other hand, the SIAC and CIAA had quite a bit of movement with the addition of Central State, Talladega, Kentucky State and Clark Atlanta into the Top 10.

Julian E. White, band director emeritus at Florida A&M University, is chairman of the MEAC/SWAC judging panel. “I commend ESPN and The Undefeated for creating this ranking system that includes the opinion of directors and fans. This brings another perspective to the ranking process,” said White. “I have been working with bands for more than 50 years and have never witnessed this type of HBCU band evaluations.”

Harold Haughton, band director emeritus at Virginia State, is chairman of the CIAA/SIAC judging panel. “I am glad to report that the bands have improved quite a bit from past years. Having said this, I must confess that with each new evaluation, the judging will become more difficult. Better drills, a better relationship between music and drills, more creative ideas for the entire show, better transitions, and improved musicality will be expected from each organization.”

Top 10 HBCU Division I Bands

Overall Rank Drum Major Drill Design Musicality Percussion Auxiliary
1. +3 North Carolina A&T 5. 2. 2. 1. 1.
2. -1 Bethune-Cookman 4. 3. 1. 2. 16.
3. +6 Alabama A&M 6. 6. 3. 4. 5.
4. -2 Jackson State 1. 5. 6. 10. 2.
5. -2 Tennessee State 3. 13. 4. 5. 4.
6. Southern 2. 1. 10. 7. 3.
7. -2 Prairie View A&M 13. 4. 8. 3. 7.
8. Norfolk State 7. 8. 13. 11. 8.
9. -2 Florida A&M 10. 17. 5. 14. 17.
10. Texas Southern 11. 9. 11. 15. 13.

Drum Major

  1. Jackson State
  2. Southern
  3. Tennessee State
  4. Bethune-Cookman
  5. North Carolina A&T

Drill and Design

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


  1. Bethune-Cookman
  2. North Carolina A&T
  3. Alabama A&M
  4. Tennessee State
  5. Florida A&M


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


  1. North Carolina A&T
  2. Jackson State
  3. Southern
  4. Tennessee State
  5. Alabama A&M

Top 10 HBCU Division II Bands

Overall Rank Drum Major Drill Design Musicality Percussion Auxiliary
1. +3 Miles 4. 1. 1. 1. 16.
2. +1 Virginia State 7. 8. 4. 2. 10.
3. +7 Benedict 1. 9. 2. 3. 17.
4. -3 Winston-Salem State 11. 5. 3. 5. 11.
5. Central State 17. 3. 9. 4. 4.
6. Kentucky State 3. 2. 7. 12. 3.
7. Talladega 10. 4. 6. 11. 8.
8. Morehouse 8. 6. 5. 14. 6.
9. Clark Atlanta 2. 13. 8. 8. 1.
10. -3 Elizabeth City State 5. 10. 10. 9. 12.

Drum Major

  1. Benedict
  2. Clark Atlanta
  3. Kentucky State
  4. Miles
  5. Elizabeth City State

Drill and Design

  1. Miles
  2. Kentucky State
  3. Central State
  4. Talladega
  5. Winston-Salem State


  1. Miles
  2. Benedict
  3. Winston-Salem State
  4. Virginia State
  5. Morehouse


  1. Miles
  2. Virginia State
  3. Benedict
  4. Central State
  5. Winston-Salem State


  1. Clark Atlanta
  2. Tuskegee
  3. Kentucky State
  4. Central State
  5. Fort Valley State

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.