Kansas band director suspended after half-time Starship Enterprise show

Critics say Kansas State University show resembled a sexual act, William Shatner disagrees

September 15, 2015
Source: Inside Higher Ed
Placement chart for Saturday's half-time drill, showing the Enterprise in battle with the Jayhawk

Kansas State University has suspended its marching band director for one game after the band’s members marched in a formation meant to portray the Starship Enterprise battling the mascot of the university’s rival, the University of Kansas Jayhawk.

The self-imposed sanctions, which include paying a $5,000 (£3,200) fine to the Big 12 Conference, came after the conference said that Saturday’s half-time show possibly violated its “sportsmanship and ethical conduct policies” by depicting a mascot from a team other than the day’s opponent. Kansas State was competing against the University of South Dakota.

Fans and the band’s supporters don’t buy that reasoning, however, saying that the band is actually being punished because its attempt to reproduce the famous Star Trek ship went awry and, to some, resembled male genitalia, Inside Higher Ed reported.

“At Saturday's home football opener Kansas State University fell short of its obligation to conduct itself in a consistent manner with the principles of sportsmanship,” Kirk Schulz, Kansas State’s president, said in a statement. “Good sportsmanship is part of the Wildcat way; we do not want to do anything that takes away from the tremendous efforts of our student athletes and the award-winning Pride of Wildcat Land marching band.”

Taking to Twitter and Facebook, viewers said that the oblong profile of the Enterprise taking aim at the Jayhawk’s open beak looked like a sexual act.

The observation quickly went viral online, and Frank Tracz, the band’s director, released a statement on Sunday clarifying the drill’s intention.

“There was absolutely no intent to display anything other than the Enterprise and the Jayhawk in battle,” Mr Tracz stated, illustrating his point with a chart showing how the formation was meant to look. “If I am guilty of anything it would be the inability to teach the drill in a manner that these young people could have succeeded. I do apologise for the misinterpretation and I assure you that I meant absolutely no disrespect or malice towards the University of Kansas.”

University officials said that the punishment against the team has “nothing to do with any perverted social media”, and that it is just in response to the “disintegration of the Jayhawks”. As part of the sanctions, the band will perform without Mr Tracz when Kansas State plays Kansas later this season. All future half-time shows will now require prior approval from the athletics department. The $5,000 fine will be paid by the president’s office, Mr Schulz said.

The league in which the game took place, known as the Big 12 Conference, did not respond when asked whether it has a policy specifically banning teams and their marching bands from taunting teams that they aren’t playing. 

However, the band and its director also have an ally in the leader of the Enterprise himself, William Shatner, who portrayed Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek television series and films.

 “I think it’s time for the Big 12 Conference leaders to step down and get their eyes checked,” Shatner tweeted on Tuesday. “What a travesty!”

If not for the debatably phallic nature of the drill, however, the routine was not unlike others performed by college marching bands. Ohio State University’s marching band often mocks its rivals at the University of Michigan, even when the football teams are not competing against each other.   

When playing Pennsylvania State in 2013, the band performed a tribute to Hollywood blockbusters, and in the portion of the show referencing Pirates of the Caribbean, a ship emblazoned with an Ohio State flag sank a ship flying Michigan’s.

During a University of Nebraska game, a half-time show devoted to video games featured a nod to the end of a Super Mario Bros. level, in which Michigan’s flag was removed from a castle and replaced with Ohio State’s. A celebration of The Wizard of Oz during a game against the University of Cincinnati last year implied that the Wicked Witch of the West was a Michigan fan.

Jeffery Morris, vice president of communications and marketing at Kansas State, reiterated on Wednesday that the sanctions are in response to Big 12 leaders contacting the university and saying that they were “concerned with the band depicting the Jayhawks” when the two teams were not competing.

“We were kind of surprised,” Mr Morris said. “But at the same time, we want to do what’s best for Kansas State and the conference. There’s been an overall conference emphasis on trying to improve sportsmanship as a general rule, and I would say that we are in favour of that. I think that heightened scrutiny means that some things that teams did before are going to be less allowed in the future.”

Sportsmanship has been on Kansas State’s mind of late, following an incident last year when fans rushed on to the court after defeating the University of Kansas in men’s basketball. Some of the fans were physical with the Kansas team, hip checking a Jayhawk player and trapping the head coach between the throng and the scorer’s table. When Kansas State students bought football tickets this season, they were told to sign “sportsmanship codes of conduct”.

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