The cancellation of this year’s Kansas University Band Day Parade is another sad example of how money — particularly the money from large television contracts — now trumps all the tradition and community activities that have been associated with KU football games for many years.
KU band officials scrapped plans for the annual parade of bands in downtown Lawrence after it was announced that the KU-Louisiana Tech football game would begin at 11 a.m. to accommodate television coverage of the contest. The 11 a.m. start made it impossible to have the parade before the game and impractical to have it after. As is the case throughout the football season, the time of the game was announced only about two weeks ahead of time, making it impossible for band officials — or any other KU group — to do any advance planning for alumni events or other activities in conjunction with the games.
Band Day is a 66-year-old tradition at KU, but officials say participation in the event has been declining in recent years. They blamed the decline on the fact that high school students have many more activities competing for their attention these days, but they also acknowledged that not knowing the time of the football game until so late also makes it difficult to plan the event. We suspect Band Day would be far more attractive to both band directors and band members if the schedule, as it was for many years, was set far in advance and they knew exactly what activities would be included in the visit, rather than waiting until the last minute, only to find out that the schedule of activities had been curtailed thanks to the dictates of a television contract.
Band Day is not the only victim of this phenomenon. Groups like the KU Endowment Association and KU Alumni Association do the best they can to accommodate the last-minute game-time decisions, but it’s almost impossible for them to plan more elaborate events that require caterers or reserved venues when they don’t know more than a couple of weeks ahead whether the game will be played at 11 a.m., 8 p.m., or sometime in between.
It’s also disappointing to many KU fans to learn that, with all the effort to cater to TV, rich contracts have been approved that don’t cater to local fans, many of whom may not have access to the channels that are carrying the Jayhawk games. It at least leaves the impression that the contracts were driven entirely by money, with little consideration for Jayhawk fans.
KU certainly isn’t the only school dealing with these issues. The power of lucrative TV contracts has altered traditions at many schools. Teams that are lucky enough to attract large network attention have a little more control over their schedules, but television still is the driver.
Coaches and players are an essential part of any football game; a strong fan base and community support are part of any great football tradition. Unfortunately, the way things stand right now, none of those groups seem as important to the college football scene as money and the television contracts that provide it.