When the Rice football team took on the University of Texas, Austin on Sept. 12, they were missing some supporters in the stands. Rice students, alumni, family and fans showed up en masse for the game. But the Marching Owls Band, more commonly known as the MOB, did not.
Their absence was not due to a lack of enthusiasm for the football team. In July, the Big 12 Conference — the conference in which two of Rice’s 2015 opponents, Texas and Baylor, play — decided that each school would charge visiting band members for their seats. At Texas, the fee is $100 per seat. This fee was enough that Rice decided not to bring the MOB to the game for financial reasons. According to band director Chuck Throckmorton, the MOB was disappointed to not have the chance to go.
“It’s really a neat experience for [the band members] to be at these bigtime college foot ball stadiums, and UT is our favorite,” Throck morton said. “So, yeah, it was a disappointment.”
News broke earlier this month about the new Big 12 policy when the Texas Tech University band revealed that it would not be able to attend the school’s game against Texas in November due to expenses. Outraged fans and media quickly began bashing the policy. According to Throckmorton, this outrage was justified.
“These athletic programs want to be like professional athletics, so they keep taking things that used to be part of the fan experience and then selling them back to you,” Throckmorton said. “That’s what the problem is.”
While Throckmorton said the MOB had known for two months that it would not be traveling to Austin, fans only learned this news once word about Texas Tech’s band spread during the week leading up to the Texas game. Over the course of that week, fans from around the country — including many Texas fans and even some Texas A&M Uni versity fans — contacted Throckmorton with offers to donate to support the band’s trip to Austin. The MOB had to decline.
For similar reasons, the MOB will not travel to Baylor University this weekend. While the outrage over the new band policy has caused Baylor to withdraw the $45 charge it was planning to levy on band members, the news of the change came too late for the MOB to alter its plans. According to Throckmorton, this incident should remind people of the dangerous path down which college athletics are heading.
“What bothers me is that college athletics is supposed to be about the students,” Throckmorton said. “And if you’re pricing everybody out of that, something’s wrong.”
The MOB has been commenting on the influence of money in college athletics for several years. During Rice’s last football game at Texas in 2011, the band spelled out “$EC” on the field, in reference to Texas A&M’s recently planned — and now completed — move to the Southeastern Conference. In 2013, the MOB wore shirts emblazoned with the signature of Texas A&M’s star quarterback Johnny Manziel while he was embroiled in a scandal for allegedly breaking NCAA rules by selling his autograph. Throckmorton said the band has a duty to bring these issues to light and raise awareness among fans.
“Big picturewise, we need to make sure that money is not the only important thing in college athletics,” Throckmorton said. “We need to be the ones that say that because [the athletic programs] aren’t going to say it.”
Based on the events of the past week, the MOB’s message is spreading. The Big 12 has announced it will reconsider the policy requiring band members to pay for tickets. Additionally, University of Texas Athletic Director Steve Patterson resigned days after the Rice-Texas game. He was forced out of the position following months of discontent from Texas students, alumni and fans over his push to raise funds for an athletic program that is already the richest in the country. According to Throckmorton, these changes had to be made and long overdue.
“The big bad wolf is the Big 12 for deciding to charge for bands,” Throckmorton said. “And the next bad wolf is the Texas athletic director’s administration that set the ticket price at $100 apiece.”
In the landscape of college athletics — full of multimillion dollar television deals, staggering new stadium costs and ever increasing ticket prices — the MOB will not run out of opponents anytime soon.
Their next performance will be on Saturday, Oct. 3 at Rice Stadium during halftime of Rice football’s game against Western Kentucky University.