ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings

To start the season, Jackson State and Winston-Salem State are top HBCU bands

All bands look good, but these rankings judge bands on skill, precision, music and dance teams

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 begins the third year of the rankings that include bands from all 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 six-person panels of current and retired band directors and HBCU choreographers, evaluate bands on musicality, drill and design, percussion, auxiliary corps and drum majors. Below are the top preseason rankings.

Top 10 Division I Rankings

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

Top 10 Division II Rankings

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

Jackson State, which showed out at the MEAC/SWAC Challenge in Atlanta to open the season Sept. 1, is the top overall and top SWAC band, followed by North Carolina A&T at No. 2 overall. NC A&T is also the No. 1 MEAC band. The top band in the CIAA is Winston-Salem State, and the No. 1 SIAC band is Miles College.

In the voting, only two points separated the top two Division I bands, and only one point separated Tennessee State and Southern in those rankings.

“FAMU [Florida A&M University] made a significant jump from the 2018 polls. Many feel the FAMU band is back,” said Don P. Roberts, executive consultant for the ESPN/The Undefeated ranking committee. “Arkansas-Pine Bluff jumped into the Top 10 for the first time. They are a very good band but haven’t gotten as much publicity as other HBCU bands.”

Among the Division II schools, the top four bands were all No. 1 bands at some point in last season’s rankings. The top 10 bands are almost evenly divided between the CIAA and SIAC, with Talladega College being the top independent. Tennessee State is the top independent in Division I.

The first full rankings of the season will be published Sept. 26. These are initial rankings for the 2019 season, compiled based on last season’s final rankings and performances by bands so far this season. Rankings for the remainder of the season will be on Oct. 10, Nov. 14, Dec. 5 and Dec. 19. They will all be evaluated on musicality, drill and design, percussion, auxiliary corps and drum majors.

Last season, Bethune-Cookman (Division I) and Miles College (Division II) were the top bands in the final rankings of 2018, published in December after the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl. Bethune-Cookman started the season No. 1 in Division I, and Winston-Salem State was tops in Division II.

In 2017, the rankings’ first season, Southern University’s Human Jukebox finished as the top band, followed by Bethune-Cookman, which was rated No. 1 during a portion of that season, as was North Carolina A&T.

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

Julian E. White, director of bands emeritus at Florida A&M University, and Harold Haughton, director of bands emeritus at Virginia State University, have judged the bands since the first year of the rankings in 2017 and will be co-chairs of the panels again this season. They’ll be part of every adjudication.

Other judges

Sheena Brown, former dance captain at Norfolk State and CEO of Dance Line Coalition

Desiree Dixon, former dancer from North Carolina A&T, and dancer with Beyoncé’s Parkwood Productions

Kelvin Jones, associate director of bands at Louisiana State University (HBCU alumnus)

Lewis Liddell, Jackson State University emeritus director of bands

William Oliver, graduate assistant to Penn State University Marching Band (HBCU alumnus)

LaToya Webb, graduate assistant to Auburn University Marching Band (HBCU alumnus)

Four judges from current MEAC, SWAC, CIAA and SIAC band programs will rotate.

They will evaluate the bands in these five categories, and each category rating is tabulated into a total score for each band.

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.

The judges’ feedback after each ranking is provided to the bands to help them improve and learn, a mission the judges embrace because they are educators, instructors and teachers at universities. No other HBCU band rankings are based on evaluation of specific criteria by a panel of experts who see multiple performances on video each week.

“HBCU bands are known for their precision and musicality while they entertain a crowd for football games and exhibitions. Having feedback from our peers gives us an opportunity to perfect our shows from viewpoints of others outside of the program,” said Elizabeth City State director of university bands Juliet Boykins. “I do feel this process is helpful for most.”