ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings

We got the beat: HBCU Band Rankings, Undefeated style

We’re joining the search for the best black college bands

Anyone who knows historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), or has an appreciation for the black college experience, knows that halftime band performances are a critical part of the football game experience — they’re oftentimes even bigger than the game itself.

Bands strive to put on their best performance every game, just like the football team.

While fans enjoy the excitement that halftime performances bring, little is known about the time, preparation, sweat and sacrifice that make every performance count.

Until now.

ESPN’s The Undefeated is launching the inaugural ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings to identify the top 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, conducted by a nine-person panel of top band directors associated with HBCUs, will evaluate bands on musicality, drill and 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.

The top band selected after each ranking will be featured on ESPN performing the SportsCenter theme song until the next evaluation takes place. North Carolina A&T State University and Grambling State University have already been featured on Saturday morning SportsCenter for the past few weeks.

This season we will have four rankings: two in October and one each in November and 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.

The purpose of these rankings is to recognize the top HBCU bands leading up to the “Band of the Year” during the 2018 Celebration Bowl, and to get feedback from the panel of expert band evaluators to the programs. Each band will receive written and oral comments for each evaluation.

“We are thrilled to highlight the marvel and majesty of HBCU bands through our first-of-its-kind rankings and a suite of coverage on band culture and personalities,” said Kevin Merida, editor-in-chief of The Undefeated. “We recognize at The Undefeated the special place bands occupy on HBCU campuses.”

There will be Top 10 rankings of bands, along with Top 5 rankings of the bands in each of the judging criteria. Those criteria are musicality, drill and design, percussion, drum major and auxiliaries such as dance teams, flag squads and rifle teams.

Bands from the MEAC and SWAC are being ranked because of the leagues’ affiliation with the Celebration Bowl and MEAC/SWAC Challenge. These rankings will culminate with the first “Band of the Year” to be recognized during the Celebration Bowl weekend in December 2018 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

When will we see these rankings?

The ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings will be posted four times this season and weekly during the 2018 season. Rankings will appear on on Oct. 14, Oct. 27, Nov. 13 and Dec. 5.

ESPN and The Undefeated will highlight select bands through The 5th Quarter, a photo essay of bands during their preparations and performances, video profiles and written articles throughout the season. Videos of the band performances will be available, subject to music clearances, rights and allowances.

We’ve already done the Texas Southern University and N.C. A&T bands: The 5th Quarter: Texas Southern University’s Ocean of Soul and The 5th Quarter: North Carolina A&T’s Blue and Gold Marching Machine.

Fans, alumni and students are encouraged to give us feedback on social:


How it will happen?

Don P. Roberts, a veteran band director who serves as the vice chairman of the Minority Band Directors National Association and president and CEO of DRUMLine Live Entertainment Group, will serve as executive consultant for the ESPN/The Undefeated Band Rankings committee.

Roberts served as the executive band consultant for the hit movie Drumline and is the band consultant and coordinator for the BET hit series The Quad. He will assist the nine judges during the judging process to get access to videos, manage the voting, coordinate the gathering and dissemination of information to schools.

“There have been rankings from all types of polls and organizations for years. However, there has never been a ranking conducted by present and retired college band directors, most of them being from prominent HBCUs,” said Roberts, who has also worked extensively with theater and movie productions in America.

The Judges

The judges were asked to participate based on their leadership in the music field, breadth of knowledge about specific skills, their understanding of what it takes to orchestrate stellar performances and their roles as music educators.

“I believe the rankings will spark continued innovation and unique performances from our participating schools. This exposure will be a great recruitment and retention tool for all students involved in, or interested in, the represented programs,” said Tomisha Brock, band director at Clark Atlanta University. “Most importantly, this will be a great teaching and learning tool for our music majors, especially our music education majors. I hope the entire process will promote positive dialogue among participating band directors and students.”

  • Juliet Boykins Current band director, Elizabeth City State University
  • Tomisha Brock Current band director, Clark Atlanta University
  • Benjamin J. Butler II Retired band director, Texas Southern University
  • Lawrence Jackson Retired band director, Southern University
  • Jeff Kluball Music department chairman, Albany State University
  • Dr. Reginald McDonald Current band director, Tennessee State University
  • Dr. Linda Moorhouse Vice president of the American Bandmasters Association, has held several positions with the LSU Tiger Marching Band
  • Dr. Julian White Retired band director, Florida A&M University

Roberts says he believes the outcome will be productive for the schools and students and the worldwide fan base for HBCU bands.

“Many of the polls that presently exist are fan polls or magazine online polls, and very subjective in nature. Even though every HBCU band is outstanding in its own right, every single band considers themselves as the best or one of the best in some form or fashion,” Roberts continued. “This poll won’t necessarily crown the best band in the land, but it will definitely have a higher level of accountability for performance than ever before, which means that these already incredible bands will most likely only get better and better.”

Criteria to be Judged

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

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

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

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

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