TBDBITL Marches into New Era

By Kyle Rowland on May 21, 2013 at 9:30a
Thanks to a new funding model, the greatest show on Earth will be coming to more cities

Ohio State has long had an acrimonious relationship with the Southeastern Conference. On the football field, the SEC has made a habit out of defeating the Buckeyes and, in some cases, embarrassing them. Tennessee and Kentucky added to the frustration on the hardwood, when the two schools bounced Ohio State from the NCAA Tournament in years that offered high hopes. Aside from Michigan, no one is more hated in Columbus than the SEC.

The competition is even entering band circles now. SEC bands have traveled extensively through the years, often attending every football game in a season. The Ohio State University Marching Band will soon be joining that list, thanks to a new source of funding.

Gordon Gee, Gene Smith and the powers that be at Ohio State got together and determined that the College of Arts and Sciences and athletic department would continue financing the band. But one key change would be the addition of the Development Office of the President. Instead of a miniscule $220,000 operating budget – ninth in the Big Ten – the Buckeyes will have $1 million, which vaults them to first. With it comes more travel.

The band will attend road games at California, Purdue, Illinois and Michigan. The Cal trip will include a performance in Los Angeles, a drive up the California coast and stops at Pixar Studios and Skywalker Ranch, home of Star Wars creator George Lucas. The journey to Pixar will be a reunion for some employees, as the film company has roots at Ohio State and is known to employ OSU graduates.

“The university has taken on a wonderful new opportunity for the band to be funded by the Arts and Sciences College, the athletic department and the President’s Office,” said marching band director Jon Waters. “Those three areas are providing a significant increase in our funding and reducing our students’ costs. Before this season, students had to dry clean their own uniforms and even buy their own Gatorade at games. What this does is allow us to provide everything to our students for free.”

The image of band members having to clean their own uniforms doesn’t jive in an era where athletes seem to get preferential treatment at every turn. But the days of going without a dry-cleaned uniform are over for Ohio State’s band members.

Prior to the recent funding increase, 65-70 percent of the band’s annual expenditures were through private donations, Waters said. Gee has been one of the band’s most ardent supporters, dating back to his first stint as president. He demonstrated that emphatically by approving the change.

When Michigan’s band traveled to the Cowboys Classic in Dallas last season for the Wolverines’ game with Alabama, it cost the university an estimated $400,000. The decision to send the band came after heavy criticism when it was announced they would not make the trip. Less than a year later, it appears two of the nation’s premier marching bands have earned a spot near the top of their university’s hierarchy.

“We are entering a new era in the Ohio State Marching Band, and certainly with our football team, it’s really exciting.”

“The driving force (for the funding) was out of necessity and a desire by the university to reduce the costs individually,” Waters said. “We are entering a new era in the Ohio State Marching Band, and certainly with our football team, it’s really exciting. The energy on campus is palpable. The spark is there. People are already counting down the days till kickoff. The impetus that really drove this was a renewed energy behind the band and the football team, and the ability for our university to step forth and recognize the band for the great things we have done.”

Being a student-athlete at a Division I school is akin to having a full-time job. It’s something that over the time the public has become aware of. But many would be surprised to learn the same thing about marching band members. School and practice time accumulates rapidly. And unlike athletes, trumpet and sousaphone players don’t receive a full scholarship.

That’s why Waters was in Holland, Ohio, outside Toledo, on Monday raising money. He took part in the inaugural Cheryl Jacobs Waters TBDBITL Golf Invitational, a fundraiser to help raise scholarships for the band. The event, named in honor of Waters’ late mother, drew a large crowd of scarlet-and-gray-clad hackers.

Reflecting on his younger days, Waters told of how his mother – “the driving force in my life” – was the typical band parent, always offering an encouraging message. He dotted the i as a senior, but Waters was actually cut from the band his freshman season. It was then that his mother delivered an edict to push on. Waters wants the same joy and hope for those band parents and musicians that come after him.

“There’s not really one student who’s on full scholarship because of band, and we’re trying to change that,” Waters said. “We’re trying to give students financial help and honor them for what they do and what they give to the university. Our students rehearse as much as the football team practices, and when they’re not rehearsing they’re spending extra time memorizing music and doing their ‘homework’ to get ready for the show.”

Jon Waters: The keeper of a grand tradition.

And like their peers on the football field, when preparation meets opportunity, a performance to remember occurs. For the football team and the band, that routine coincided last October when the Nebraska Cornhuskers ventured into the Horseshoe.

At halftime, the Buckeyes led 35-24. Then came a halftime show that is still being talked about. The videogame inspired spectacle featured a galloping horse that sent the Ohio Stadium record crowd into a frenzy, as well as the Internet community. The interim tag was removed from Waters' title the next week. 

“The No. 1 question I get is, ‘How are you going to top that (performance)?’” he said. “The message I send to our students is this, we seek tradition through innovation. We seek to be innovative, and today’s innovations become tomorrow’s traditions. Script Ohio in 1936 was a new and wonderful thing, and it’s now a great tradition, "Hang On Sloopy" in 1965 and so on through the band’s history. Those opportunities that we have to be creative and add to the repertoire of traditions that Ohio State has is what I’m all about and what our students are all about.

“How we’re going to top that is in the works right now. It is a closely guarded secret.”

When 105,000 pack Ohio Stadium in the fall, most are there to see a football game. But nearly the same amount also enters the turnstiles to see what they refer to as “The Best Damn Band In The Land.” The band has been entertaining supporters for 135 years. Its traditions are ingrained into the university culture with some overlapping into state pride.

The pageantry and atmosphere at college football games would be far different without marching bands.  At professional events, it’s common for piped in music to play during games. Fans sit in their comfortable seats and thousands occupy plush suites that are often completely removed from the in-game atmosphere.

Game days in Columbus involve Skull Session, the ramp entrance, Script Ohio and a halftime show. The person who dots the i becomes a revered figure with a lifelong memory that families pass on through each generation.

“To just understand what our band means to Buckeye Nation, it even transcends football,” Waters said. “It’s really about our state. Script Ohio is not an Ohio State football thing, it’s a state of Ohio thing. It’s such a recognizable signature.

“The sound of 225 all brass and percussion instruments, the largest all brass and percussion band in the world...that’s a wonderful thing.”

“You can describe the band, you can see a video of the band – in fact, 17 million people saw a video this past season, which propelled us into international recognition – you can talk about the band, but there is nothing like seeing and hearing the band live. The sound of 225 all brass and percussion instruments, the largest all brass and percussion band in the world, and to see what they do visually on the field and to hear that live sound, that’s a wonderful thing. That’s going to be what fans can do when we travel to these various places.”

Traveling to all road games are an annual basis isn’t likely, according to Waters, but it’s his hope that attending more than one per season becomes the norm. The Big Ten Championship game and a bowl game also are strong possibilities this season, which would mean six games away from Ohio Stadium.

Waters said performing at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is in the back of his mind and added that the band has been extended invitations to play in Great Britain, Italy and South Korea. His objective is to have the band seen and heard by as many people across the country and world.

“Those marquee matchups before the Big Ten season, to be able to go to those places that don’t normally get to see the Ohio State band and to showcase our university is a tremendous opportunity,” Waters said.

Remarkably, a university staple dating to the 1930s could be in jeopardy. With the inevitable demise of St. John Arena in the future, preserving the Skull Session is at the forefront of Waters’ agenda. The tradition started out as a mental walkthrough of the pre-game and halftime show and has since grown into an institution.

First performed at Rehearsal Hall, which doubled as a livestock-judging barn, Skull Session was at times a tougher ticket than the football game. The event moved to St. John Arena in 1957 and attracts more than 12,000 people each football Saturday. 

“We’re working with the university and talking to the decision makers because the Skull Session is such a unique tradition at Ohio State,” Waters said. “There’s not another school in the country that has that type of event. There are schools that have copied it, but there’s not a school that has ever had an event like the Skull Session.

“Certainly with the team coming through, it’s a great thing for the players to feel that palpable enthusiasm with the crowd. We’re going to hard really hard as a university to make sure we maintain that tradition and make sure its there for generations to come.”


Comments Show All Comments

DannyBeane's picture

This is freaking awesome!

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

Taking the band almost everywhere this year...wow...that's incredible.  Our band has never lost a game.  It's going to be nice to hear our band playing even at all but seemingly one road game.  Can't wait.

Class of 2010.

buckeyenut10's picture

In he fact, the Arkansas forums (hogsville ?) were rather upset with how badly our band out performed theirs DDuring the sugar bowl. 

Ohio Guy in Jersey's picture

Who doesn't get chills during the ramp entrance? Then the band marching down the field, driving if you will, to Buckeye Battle Cry?
It's what makes the college game superior to the pros. Obviously the athletes are better at the pro level, but the college game day atmosphere is the best...and Ohio State does it better than any other university. 
Congrats to TBDBITL!

CC's picture

My family has had season tickets for almost 50 years.  We could sit almost anywhere but about 10 years ago we got the seats adjacent to the tunnel.  It's tough to watch the game (flagpole and crossbar are in the way sometimes) but the "event" is unreal.  My kids call the drum major the "silly guy" and go nuts when he comes down the tunnel.
I love those seats.  If I wanted a good view of the stadium I would watch on TV, instead I drive a few hundred miles to be part of the event.  I love the shoe and the band is %40 of the reason why.

avail31678's picture

Jon goes to my church - his promotion couldn't have happened to a nicer guy and family. I absolutely love what he is doing with the band.  And I love how many games they will be at.  Like others have said, the band makes the college game experience amazing, and Jon is taking it up a notch!  He told me Urban have him a big hug when they met, which makes me love Urban more too - he gets it!  Go Bucks and go TBDBITL!!!!

gravey's picture

ADT (about damn time) for TBDBITL!  

actionstanleyjackson's picture

They deserve every penny and then some...

Stay golden, Ponyboy.

Earle's picture

The Best Funded Band In The Land. 

Snarkies gonna snark. 

spqr2008's picture

My question is, where are they going to move Skull Session to?

omahabeef1337's picture

That's my question, too. I can't imagine it will be a venue as great as St. John -- it's close to the stadium, just about the right size, and it sounds awesome because you are right on top of the band.
As for where it may move... maybe Independence Hall?
It's a huge lecture hall, but isn't really that big for something like this -- seats around 500 -- but is close to the stadium.

BME_Buckeye's picture

It would be next to impossible to have in Independence Hall. The stage isn't big enough for 225 members and the Hall only sits 700 people. We get that attendance just at a night game Skull Session and more. Moreover, it would be impossible to get a seat there and would probably be a fire hazard. I have no idea what they plan on doing about this matter but I'm kinda disappointed to see St.Johns be torn down.

Look closely, because the closer you think you are, the less you will actually see.


sloopy88's picture

Knowing how much time, work and money I put into being a crappy second-string tenor sax at a MAC school, I can't even imagine how much TBDBITL members are putting into their work.  Really glad that they'll be able to get some help with expenses, really excited that the band will be going to more away games, and really glad Jon Waters gets the official job this year.  Man, I really hope they can find a way to make Skull Session happen in an accessible way.

Basso Profondo's picture

My roommate from this last academic year was in R-Row (played Mellophone).  He Would wake up before the sun rose on noon game days and wouldn't come back for about 12 hours.  With a full day, homework, and then memorizing the intricate music for the show, he would often START learning his music at around 1-2am.  Even on bye-weeks the directors have TBDBITL running around the state performing concerts, he would be gone all day.  And if anyone else here has ever played brass, you know you have to have some wicked good chops in order to play all day long.  It took an insane amount of work. Props to him.

OSUs12-OH's picture

Love this!  TBDBITL will have a chance to show it's just that!  Great for them and the university...and it's about damn time.

"I want a hungry team. I want a team that can't wait to get out there. I want an angry team! You're the Ohio State Buckeyes. You're an angry football team. You're a hungry football team and I'm proud to be your coach." UFM

Doc's picture

Congratulations to the band.  It's about damn time.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

cconnelly's picture

I was in the band with Jon, and we still keep in touch.  I can tell you that everything you read and hear about him is true - he is a fantastic person, educator and ambassador for the university.  I am so happy to see the band finally getting the funding that it needs to remain the best in the country.

Hovenaut's picture

That's great news, the program deserves to travel the land.

Hope to one day see them in Maryland, if I can't get back home first.

Well done to the administration, excellent decision on their part.

TBDBITL's picture

I approve of this story.

southbymidwest's picture

Knew some great guys in TBDBITL when I was at OSU- they were very dedicated, and busted their butts. Between practice every afternoon next to St. John's, challenges, and individual practice to get the music down, it was/is a huge commitment. Those guys were damn proud of being in it, also.
OSU daughter met the first female I-dotter at a function in VA a few months ago, and was very excited about it.

Phillips.449's picture

This article makes giddy!


Citrus's picture

Seriously, they deserve it. We call it TBDITL and we are serious. NO ONE COMES CLOSE! To see the precision and creativity that they display is inspiring.

I had a girl visit two years ago from Miami. She had moved from Cuba when she was 11 and football wasn't her thing. However, when I took her to Ohio Stadium, SHE LOVED IT. The band was "one of the coolest" things she had ever seen. She was excited to watch the game and got into it. She asked me tons of questions about football because the band made her so excited. To a lesser extent (or maybe a greater one) that happens to all of us when we go to the game.

Congrats band. And to any band members that are reading this, we are proud of you. Thank you for your discipline. You bring honor to our great university.

TBDBITL0509's picture

Makes me want to use the remaining years of my TBDBITL eligibility!
I love seeing the band get more and more support. I remember not traveling to some key road games and it almost felt like a punishment that we couldn't be there to support our team.

Cdrone92's picture

As a current member (and attendee of the Golf Outing yesterday), I'm extremely glad to see in some sort of writing that preservation of Skull Session is at the forefront of the directors' minds. Awesome article!

"If we worked half as hard as our band, we'd be champions."

-Woody Hayes

WashingtonStateBuck's picture

As a TBDBITL alum, this is extremely exciting. I remember having to pay to dry clean my uniform during weeks when I had basically $0 in the bank. 
I can't wait to travel down the coast to see TBDBITL at the Cal game this year. 
Man, this would have been a great year to go try out and use my remaining 5th year of band eligibility. But, at 45 with shitty knees, probably would not have been my best decision...

ATXbucknut's picture

TBDBITL band members bring it every week.

Their band members don't even really like being in band.

Phillips.449's picture

How did I miss the surfer?  What freaking game was that during?  That is pretty damn sweet.

toad1204's picture

Nothing like dancing on the field in 02... 

bukyze's picture

The precision of which the band marches is unrivaled anywhere in the world.  I am constantly amazed about how precise their changes of position are (when they lift their instrument to turn right for example), and how every single member is marching at the EXACT same tempo - each foot simultaneously hitting the ground with every march.  Everything is perfect.  It's so cool to see them get the increase in funding, b/c no other band deserves it as much as they do.  And as was mentioned in the story, they put in just as much time practicing as the football players do.  I feel so privileged to have attended the best damn school and to have the best damn band in the land.  Look forward to seeing the band at the Cal game this year!

MN Buckeye's picture

My thoughts exactly, Bukyze.  I have never seen hundreds marching in a band, and everyone is in perfect step!  It makes you feel like you are not watching people move but that you are watching and hearing art.

BME_Buckeye's picture

Instead of a miniscule $220,000 operating budget – ninth in the Big Ten – the Buckeyes will have $1 million, which vaults them to first.

Can you post a link so we can see the totals for all the teams in the Big Ten? Thanks. 

Look closely, because the closer you think you are, the less you will actually see.


Firedup's picture

Not to be pessimistic but why is the College of Arts and Sciences help footing the bill?? From my experiences with the dept they need all the help they can get much less pay for the band? I'm all for the band but not College of Arts and Sciences 

"Making the Great State of Ohio Proud!" UFM

Robbitect's picture

Any idea where-abouts in LA the band will stop and play on the Cal trip?  Or better yet, any link to the same info?

MN Buckeye's picture

I am all for raising funds for band scholarships.  It would be awesome to build an endowment capable of supporting a significant portion of the band on at least half-scholarship, with something like 10% on full scholarship.

mbandfan2's picture

You can help support the Band by visiting the MBANDFAN2 YouTube channel.  The channel belongs to the band.  The Marching Band receives ad revenue for all the views.  Choose from over 500 high definition (HD) TBDBITL videos coving most of the Skull Sessions and Ramp entries, Script Ohio (the entire pre-game show), and most half-time shows (including the Video Game show performed at the 2012 Nebraska game, in HD) from the 2010, 2011, and 2012 seasons.  The channel currently has over 1,000 subscribers and 1.6 Million video views.  Please visit the site and send the link to your friends and fellow TBDBITL fans.  Thanks.  http://www.youtube.com/user/mbandfan2

BME_Buckeye's picture

OMG you're alive! I love your videos, watch all of them and have subscribed to your content. Please continue to record and post videos. I am a loyal supporter of our band and enjoy what you do to bring the connection of the band to the fans. Thank you very much! 

Look closely, because the closer you think you are, the less you will actually see.