ORLANDO, Fla.– There were several recognizable faces within the University of Southern Florida Bulls men’s basketball entourage last Thursday.
Assistant coach and NBA all star Rod Strickland was there, as was DeMarcus Cousins’ brother, Jaleel, and former Kentucky assistant coach and Harlem Globetrotter Orlando Antiguam, now the Bulls’ head coach.
But the University of Southern Florida “Rumble” Pep Band was every bit part of the victory over East Carolinain the opening game of the American Athletic Conference tournament.
The Rumble did more than entertain the crowd at the American Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament.
Collectively, it was the team’s biggest fan with musicians providing vocal, musical and moral support during both offensive and defensive plays, raising their hands in the shape of bull horns after three pointers, shouting during free throws, and consistently distracting the opposing team, in this case, the East Carolina Pirates.
The band is a template for teamwork and inclusivity.
“Anybody who wants to be in pep band can be as long as they’ve got previous playing experience – on either drum set, or with a woodwind or brass instrument,” said band director, Bryan Braue, sitting courtside at the Amway Arena.
At any given USF event, there are 27 players and one drummer on the set.
“There’s actually about 170 kids in total in the band. So they rotate—different games and different schedules—this is a different group of kids (band members) here than the group that were in Connecticut for the women’s tournament.”
When it comes to choosing the song lineup, Braue said, “It is a little bit of a democratic process where the kids will suggest charts for us.”
But they can’t play just any song they choose.
“There’s a whole process and procedure for the rights to arrange — everything is copy-written,” he said.
The pep band is just one component of the game day experience that, collectively, has launched college sports into a leader in American live entertainment.
A game day coordinator ultimately acts as the stage manager of the event, working with television producers, cheerleaders, pep bands, half time show hosts, contestants and officials to keep the entire game ecosystem on schedule.
“At home, we’re really fortunate that we have a great team of producers for the shows —‘cause it really is a show,” Braue said. “But for something like this, I’m basically given a script, and I’ll communicate with the production manager of the event, which is why I have to have the headset on.”
Song charts are arranged to last between two and three minutes. The band also has several “shorties” prepared that are about 30 to 45 seconds long. During a TV timeout, the band will play a two minute chart then immediately transition into a shorty to fill in any remaining time left before the ball goes back in play.
Over time, the competitive nature of athletes has rubbed off on musicians, especially local teams.
“There’s rivalry with us, and say, Orlando’s UCF because they’re so close,” Braue said.
“It’s very similar to the rivalries that you see with any basketball teams and football teams. With the universities, you got Florida and Florida State, and around here they’re very competitive, and it’s the same type of thing with the bands.”
The rivalries are fiercest on game days but there is also a common cause.
“If the other band was here, the kids would all meet together after the game. There’s a lot of comradery between the musicians.”
Follow Andrea on Twitter: @andreamingham