New Women’s Basketball Rules Affect how Band, Dance, Cheer Units Operate

Last Thursday was the home opener for the Marist College Women’s Basketball regular season, but for those who attended that game, it could have just as equally been a completely different event that they were attending. It wasn’t because the team played unusually bad, or that the ambience was completely different with the band away to practice for an upcoming concert. No, it was something else that seemed off. Even if the fans could not put their finger on it, they would come to figure this curious sense of change in due time.

In this case, time is the correct word, as the duration of National Colligate Athletic Association (NCAA) Women’s Basketball games has been modified slightly for this season. Previous years have seen the game be divided into two 20-minute halves, with a 20-minute timeout in between. This year, however, the game has been divided further: each 20-minute half is now a 10-minute quarter, with a short timeout added in between.

“The NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules Committee, which initially recommended the rule change, believes the four-quarter format will enhance the flow of the game,” the NCAA stated in a press release on June 10 of this year. “The change also was endorsed by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Board of Directors.”

While the posted changes greatly affect how coaches manage their timeouts and player rotation, it also affects the auxiliary units of the basketball games – the bands, cheerleaders, and dance teams who tirelessly work each and every home game, cheering on their home team even in the face of insurmountable odds. With a new format in place, each unit has to adapt their methods and performances to accommodate the shift in the game format.

“There’s only one media timeout now in each quarter, in the middle of the quarter,” explained Nicholas Russell, a Marist College Senior and the Vice-President of Pep Bands at Marist College. “So we are losing one timeout for every single half; but it’s not the end of the world, because we get to play longer songs, and play them more complete, which is certainly not a bad thing.” Russell, who manages what songs are available for the Marist Pep Bands to play during sporting events, elaborated on this point, stating that while they lose one timeout per half, the new timeouts between quarters are longer than the standard timeouts that occur during the course of a game. Because of this, he expects that there will be fewer instances where they would need to stop playing due to the game resuming. In addition, by playing less, Russell states that the musicians in the band will not be as overused during the game, and be able to perform better when they are called into action.

“The band will be playing less,” said Russell, “but we will be able to save our chops and play better, and play out our songs longer.”

Any rule change affecting performance time has to be closely scrutinized by the auxiliary units. The NCAA has very stringent rules on when bands can and cannot play, or how loud the cheerleaders can be during the game. While instances of disruptions are few and far between, they can happen, and almost always result in a penalty against their sports team. Earlier this month, Central Michigan University’s football team was warned for their band and cheer teams cranking the volume to 11 during the opposing team’s drive. The ESPN broadcast of the game panned their cameras over to a stunned Central Michigan cheerleading unit, while the enraged home fans became louder than the auxiliary units ever were.

Other nuances of performances also become affected by the change. For example, dance team units often wear different uniforms to match different performances. Time is needed to change between each performance into the next outfit, meaning that a faster-paced game – or fewer timeouts – will cause issues with how the units operate.

“The rule change for the women’s basketball games will affect the number of uniform changes for our performance, but we are happy to just be part of the game day celebration.”  Marist dance team coach Laurie Matthews stated in an email. She would have preferred greater notice to the changes from the athletics department, but admits that they “wear many hats, and advance notice is not always possible.”

More than the time allotment of games was changed with the recent set of rule modifications. Per the NCAA press release, the time of when bands can play has also been modified: “In an effort to improve the overall fan experience, bands or amplified music may be played during any dead-ball situation during a women’s basketball game. Previously, rules allowed music to be played only during timeouts and intermission.” The effect is that now bands will be able to perform songs during any moment that a ball goes out of the court, or each time a player steps out of bounds. As this is something that has never been possible before, it is a rule that will likely be tweaked or amended as it is put into practice.

“We haven’t really tested that out,” Russell admitted. He stated that the Marist Band has only played at one women’s basketball game, a preseason game early in November. “We are in contact with athletics, and the idea is to see how much they will allow us to do, and what their feelings are. We might need to have shorter songs popped up, or little cheers so that we can immediately go to it.”

One of the ideas that Russell did say was already implemented was the breakdown of songs into snippets that could be used in short turnarounds. Using a piece that was an arrangement of different Pentatonix songs as an example, Russell explained that the different songs used in the medley could be used either in a short timeout, or be stacked onto each other in the event of a longer timeout.

“We can actually play those songs during shorter timeouts that we have, or actually extend into a longer one if we need more time,” he said. “It’s just a little bit tougher because even though we’re invested into the game, a lot of times, it would be tough for us to immediately pick a song and to have everyone be on the same page. We won’t know how it will work, but we will certainly try.”

For a sport that has been largely unchanged in recent memory, the Women’s Basketball games will be seeing how their new format affects both fan experience and the flow of the game. There also appear to be more changes on the horizon as well, as a recent recommendation to add the 10-second backcourt violation to the Women’s rulebook indicates. With all these changes, the auxiliary units of the basketball programs will need to pay close attention to the changes, and see how these new rules will apply to their performances.

“As usual, we will go with the flow, and are happy to represent Marist at the games,” Coach Matthews stated.

“It’s not going to be completely different, but it will be a different way of looking at the game and figuring out what to play every single time,” Russell said. “It’s going to be cool that we have this distinction between men’s and women’s games; neither are going to be bad, but they will both be different. And that’s not a bad thing.”

The Marist Cheerleaders were reached out for a comment, but did not respond to requests for an interview.

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