Those fellows in the back in “Go Gate” t-shirts, holding instruments, are in fact rented Ohio State students.
Photo: Gregory Shamus (Getty)

The Colgate Raiders men’s basketball team made its third-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament after winning the Patriot League’s automatic bid by winning the conference tournament over Bucknell. The Raiders were given the 15-seed in the NCAA’s South Region, where they fought gamely but ultimately lost by seven points to Tennessee. This was Colgate’s first appearance in the tournament in 23 years. A big moment! To hear Colgate’s fight song proudly blaring from the stands of college basketball’s biggest stage, why, it’s almost enough to bring a tear to the eye.

Turns out that the sound of Colgate’s fight song proudly blaring from the stands of college basketball’s biggest stage was in fact produced not by members of Colgate’s 20-person pep band, but by 29 members of Ohio State’s pep band, clad in maroon t-shirts, performing the song using sheet music provided by the Colgate athletic department, who’d rented them for the occasion. This, you can probably guess, did not sit real well with Colgate’s band, all of whom learned of the arrangement when they saw their replacements playing their song on television. Per the Colgate Maroon-News:

Senior Kyle Rhodehouse, who served as the Raider Pep Band’s drum major for two years, said that the Colgate band was never consulted about the possibility of traveling to Columbus, Ohio, where the men’s basketball team played Tennessee on March 22.

“We learned of the ‘fake band’ when we saw shots of drummers on the live CBS coverage of the game, and then again when someone on the cheerleading team [who had attended the game] sent a photo...to one of the Colgate band members,” Rhodehouse said.

Where this appearance would’ve been a thrilling experience and a lifelong memory for members of Colgate’s pep band, it was instead a thrilling experience and a lifelong memory for members of Ohio State’s band, who were apparently told that Colgate doesn’t have a pep band of its own:

Kyle Rhodehouse—who is described variously as a drum major and a trumpeter but one way or another is a senior member of the Colgate band—told the Syracuse Post-Standard that the incident was insulting and embarrassing, and described being left behind by his school and replaced by fill-ins as “a slap in the face.” In a very angry Facebook post, Rhodehouse says Colgate captioned an Instagram photo of the imposters with “One more time for the greatest fans in the world!!” Prior to Colgate deleting the Instagram post—because of course it was eventually deleted—Rhodehouse says comments he and his friends posted “calling out this irony” were hastily deleted by whoever was managing the account.

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Juliana Smith, senior associate athletics director and chief of staff for Colgate athletics, has been waving away the decision to use the fake band by pointing out that it’s not an especially uncommon practice for smaller schools, and that anyway Colgate’s pep band is “too small to support a performance on a scale that is required for a nationally televised event.” The first point is apparently true—an NCAA spokesperson reportedly confirmed to the Post-Standard that band rental is a real thing—but the latter point doesn’t stand up real well to scrutiny, as pointed out in the Maroon-News report:

Though many colleges’ bands are composed of upwards of 100 students, NCAA guidelines dictate that groups performing during the March Madness tournament can be no larger than 29. The Colgate pep band has 20 active members, sophomore and director Ryan Rios said.

When asked if Colgate Athletics could have invited the pep band and only hired nine additional players from Ohio State, Smith declined to comment.

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Whatever accounts for the school’s decision to leave its band home and replace them entirely with rentals from the Ohio State band, it’s certainly not just the size of the band. From the sound of some of the back-and-forth between Smith and the band’s leadership, it seems like part of the issue might’ve been that the Colgate pep band wasn’t especially reliable, attendance-wise. Smith says, for example, that the team’s cheerleaders were invited along to Columbus “in recognition of their commitment to the Raider teams, demonstrated through their participation in every home game this year besides university breaks and for work they have undertaken this year to strengthen their routines.”

Ryan Rios, the band’s director, responded to this implied justification in an email to the school’s Director of Athletics, per the Maroon-News:

Rios said that inconsistent attendance is often attributable to poor weather conditions that pose damage to instruments, and expressed frustration that Athletics’ concerns over attendance were not communicated to the pep band earlier.

“If you have an issue with our attendance and that stops us from being able to play at exciting events like the NCAA tournament, a quick heads-up would be appreciated before the fact so that we can discuss and work together to fix that for the next time.”

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Again, it’s a justification that doesn’t stand up to a ton of scrutiny. However unreliable the Colgate pep band might’ve been as a presence at men’s basketball games, they were surely a much more dependable presence at Colgate games than the Ohio State pep band. Rhodehouse, in his Facebook post, hints at a possible financial motive for the move:

The NCAA provides funding for bands, cheer teams, and mascots to attend the tournament games. Rather than use this money for its intended purposes, Colgate Raider Nation decided to purposely exclude the pep band from the festivities, and opted to hire a local band, even asking a high school band, in place of the real Colgate band.

Maybe it was just cheaper to hire 29 local stand-ins than it would’ve been to bus or fly 20 Colgate students to Columbus and put them up for a night or two. Either way, Smith says the school is “eager to work toward having a Colgate pep band that is large, ever-present, enthusiastic, and a weekly proud force that helps us create an incredible game day atmosphere throughout the year at Colgate.” 23 years from now, when they make their next NCAA Tournament, that band will be ready!