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Bob Lutz: K-State marching band gives rivalry with KU a new twist

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The Kansas State marching band sure created a hullabaloo with its halftime performance Saturday night, huh?

It has resulted in a fine of $5,000 to be paid to the Big 12 Conference for violating the league’s sportsmanship policy, a one game suspension of the band’s director, Frank Tracz, and a change in policy which will mandate approval by the school’s office of student life and athletic development for all future formations and designs of K-State halftime shows.

Kansas State announced the penalties Tuesday.

Well, the game – a 34-0 blowout over South Dakota – gave folks little to talk about, outside of the injury to quarterback Jesse Ertz.

The band’s performance was designed, we’re told, to depict the Starship Enterprise destroying a defenseless Kansas Jayhawk mascot. Poor guy never had a chance.

But some saw something much different, a formation that resembled a sex act against the mascot.

Kansas State fans, of course, regard this incident as much ado about nothing. Their band nor their band director, Tracz, would never do something in such poor taste intentionally.

I’m inclined to believe that Tracz and the members of his band didn’t set out to be offensive. But I’m not sure what they were setting out to do and the punishment announced Tuesday doesn’t exactly scream innocence.

The whole thing is bizarre.

Why was a Jayhawk mascot included in the band’s routine? Why a Star Trek theme to the show?

Kansas State doesn’t have a home game against Kansas this season; the Wildcats play at KU on Nov. 28. The Jayhawks, in recent history, have rarely been a threat to Kansas State on the football field. Sure, KU is the Wildcats’ biggest rival, but was it really necessary to involve Kansas in Saturday’s halftime show?

The band’s performance came a little more than a week after K-State students were asked to sign a sportsmanship pledge when picking up their athletic tickets. Part of the pledge says students must “refrain from using profanity and inappropriate chants” and to “show respect for all participating student-athletes, coaches, fans and officials.”

The band’s performance had a pretty obscene look to some, intentional or not. Some spectators who watched the halftime show immediately were surprised and shocked. So how did the portrayal of what many deemed to look like a sex act get past the band director?

Tracz was about to answer some of those questions during a live chat Sunday morning set up by Kansas State’s student newspaper, the Collegian.

But before Tracz could answer any online questions, he abruptly cut off the chat. He later told the Collegian that K-State athletic director John Currie and school president Kirk Schulz both advised him not to participate in the chat and that a meeting about Saturday’s halftime performance would take place today.

The questions coming from Kansas State’s administration were likely more direct and critical than those Tracz would have been asked during the live chat. And why did he agree to an online chat anyway? What good was possibly to come from that?

Tracz has been a successful marching band director at Kansas State. Last year, the band was the winner of the Sudler Trophy, given every two years to recognize the nation’s top marching band.

Creating a Jayhawk that actually looks like the KU mascot in a formation requires, I’m sure, a lot of skill and attention to detail. That’s why it’s so surprising that the performance went off in such a crazy, easy-to-misinterpret-as-sleazy direction.

Whether or not the act was intentional, it was offensive to many.

It created negative national attention for Kansas State and its marching band. And the students who perform in the band don’t deserve this unless they were in on some devious trick.

There’s nothing to suggest they were. There’s nothing to suggest anybody devised some nasty halftime show to embarrass the Kansas Jayhawks or their fan base.

It was a halftime show run amok. And the embarrassment belongs to Kansas State and the unwanted attention this crazy marching band flap has brought.

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