Why the Marching 100 Is Probably More Expendable to FAMU Than You Think

January 9, 2012

By Peter McKay | FAMU ’97 | Email

Seems the news cycle surrounding FAMU’s hazing scandal is picking up again now that everyone is back for the new semester in Tallahassee. USA Today just ran a pro-con on hazing, with its editorial board criticizing the hazing record of FAMU and academia in general. President Ammons wrote the “con” piece defending the school’s record. Meanwhile, the Orlando Sentinel ran a story detailing parents’ complaints over the years about hazing at FAMU, with many of the complainants saying they weren’t satisfied with FAMU’s response in the pre-Champion days.

For its part, the university has tried to turn PR lemons into lemonade by creating a new “independent blue-ribbon panel of experts” to look into hazing. This by no means should be confused with the “task force” they had to cancel earlier that was supposed to do essentially the same thing.

In any case, forming committees for further study is a classic bureaucratic delaying tactic. It remains my belief that while there are certainly details that the FAMU community should flesh out regarding hazing, the basic contours of the problem have been known for a long time. Given the parts that are already known, there are specific actions we could be taking now, with some added motivation because of the Champion tragedy.

One basic matter the administration has been conspicuously mum about is whether there will be a Marching 100 next year. Yes, band performances have been suspended “indefinitely” for now, but will the president or trustees commit to keeping the band inactive for a certain number of years to come?

So far, we have no idea. Having an “indefinite” ban cuts both ways, you know. Rest aassured that every person in a position of power at FAMU, in the back of his or her mind, or maybe even in discussions behind closed doors, already has some vision of the band’s future that’s anything but indefinite. Either they want the band to stay gone awhile, or they want to get enough of the Champion fallout behind them to claim a quick victory over hazing and bring the ‘100’ back next fall. No Rattler is truly agnostic on this issue.

My own belief is that the band’s hazing sickness simply cannot be cured in a few months. To ensure student safety, which should be the paramount concern, I think there should be a ban of at least five years to truly clean house, down to the current freshman class of band members. The entire staff should also be replaced. And then after some time off, yes, reconstitute the band as funky as ever. Of course.

The inevitable counter-claim is that not having the ‘100’ will generate an intolerable hit to the university’s fundraising. Everyone in the FAMU community “knows” this, but I believe hard numbers simply do not bear the perception out.

According to a recent story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, FAMU gets about $300,000 in revenue from the band every year.

That’s equal to less than 0.1% of the university’s annual operating budget of about $480 million, based on the most recent full version that I could find at famu.edu.

Some people will argue that the band’s impact is difficult to capture directly, since they have a large unmeasured pass-through effect on the attendance at football games. Undoubtedly true. So let’s make some reasonable assumptions about that based on the numbers we do have at hand.

The athletics-related items in the 2010-2011 budget came out to about $9.5 million, including concessions. To be very generous to the don’t-break-up-the-100 crowd, let’s assume for the sake of argument that about half that total would dry up due to unbought football tickets if there were no band to fill the seats.

That hit still comes out to less than 1% of the university’s overall operating budget.

What about the likely effect on charitable giving? What if alumni have less of that gung-ho school spirit and don’t dig as deep? Again, that effect is hard to predict precisely. But I’d point out that the annual ‘100’ revenue is equivalent to about 0.3% of FAMU’s endowment, according to the numbers cited by the AJC.

Finally, I think we should ask how much the revenue loss from the ‘100’ might hurt compared to other cuts that FAMU has suffered in recent years. While no loss of revenue is ever fun, experience suggests that going without the band would be child’s play in terms of the tangible effect on campus compared to what’s already happened.

In his 2010 “state of the university address,” President Ammons noted that the state had cut about $26 million out of FAMU’s budget over the previous three years, which averages out to a little less than $9 million a year. That’s almost 30 times worse than missing out on a year’s worth of band revenue, yet everyone somehow got through it. We found a way.

It would be relatively easy to do the same if the band revenue went away, especially if the alternative scenario entails risking another tragedy like the loss of Robert Champion.

What the numbers bear out is that the true meat and potatoes of FAMU’s budget come from fairly mundane sources — the state’s regular budget allocation, transfers of federal aid to cover individual students’ fees, and out-of-pocket tuition. The school’s endowment is a nice size as HBCU’s go, though there are a lot more impressive ones in academia as a whole.

Beyond that, FAMU’s administration rightly aspires to get extra cash wherever else it can. But in practice, no single source of extra revenue has so far proven itself truly vital to carrying out the university’s mission. Any such source — including the band — could go away tomorrow and the university could carry on its work quite ably, thank you very much.


5 Responses to “Why the Marching 100 Is Probably More Expendable to FAMU Than You Think”

  1. What4 Says:

    How do the figures come out if you include the cost of the band? It requires a lot of staff time, bus rentals, hotel rooms, equipment and repairs, and scholarships.

    How many students get scholarships to be in the band? One article on hazing mentioned that the affected student left FAMU and gave up an $80,000 scholarship.

    $80,000? For playing in the band?

    • Peter McKay Says:

      These are good questions. The version of the budget I looked at didn’t have those things itemized, so I’m not sure of the specific answers at this point. But you’re definitely correct to infer that, in essence, I’ve done the pro-band side a big favor by leaving those costs out of the equation.

      If we were to find the numbers you’re asking about and put them in, the case to keep the band would surely get even weaker since the net financial benefit of keeping them around would be even less.

  2. dre' Says:

    i think one of they key intangibles you’re missing is the recruitment power of the band. many members of the band come to FAMU because of the band (either explicitly, or it was the deal breaker), and some of my classmates that didn’t participate in the band shared similar sentiments.
    let’s also not count out the number of people who never heard of FAMU until they saw the “100.” there has historically been a lot of recognition of the university as a result of the band’s performances.
    again, these are intangibles that cannot be measured, but i think these are the types of things people are talking about when they speak of the financial impact of the band.

    lastly, as a former member of the band, i can assure you that that $80k has to be inflated. i’m not sure that school costs that much for four years even for out of state students. most band scholarships are in the range of $500. there are very few students that receive full scholarships, and those that do are usually music majors – meaning, they’re not only marching. those students also participate in several ensembles, as well as take a full course load just like other students. just an fyi…

    • Peter McKay Says:

      So, bottom line, how much do you think overall enrollment at FAMU would fall per year if there were no 100? There must be **some** number we can put on that, even if it’s a rough estimate. Ten percent? Fifty percent? What?

      My main point is, if we’re going to talk financial implications, then we have to talk numbers, by definition. That’s what finance is. I still don’t believe there are any reasonable numbers we could use that would show a ban on the 100 to be truly prohibitive.

      I believe the real impetus not to ban the 100 is purely cultural and emotional. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, mind you. But let’s call it what it is if we’re going to have **that** conversation. It’s a very different one than anything regarding finance.

      From an emotional/cultural frame, my feeling is that it would of course be a great loss not to have the 100 for several years. But I’m even more heartbroken by the loss of Robert Champion’s life, and I’m willing to make some sacrifice to make sure hazing culture subsides so that future band members don’t meet the same fate. Caring about our students deeply should be as much a part of FAMU culture as any musical compositions or dance routines from the band, as much as we enjoy those things. It’s callous to follow a course that we know will basically leave hazing culture in place.

      • Dre' Says:

        Honestly, I’m not sure that there’s an easy way to quantify the effect on enrollment. It’s really tough to say because there are so many factors involved when students choose a university. Overall, a ban would probably not cause the university to crumble, however there are a lot of additional indirect funds that the band generates.
        I believe you mentioned athletics in your original post (typing on my phone and can’t go back without losing this). Just a point of information, but many of our football classics’ contracts have the band written into them. In other words, the band must perform in order to honor those contracts. (at least, that’s how it was about 8 years ago when I was there.) Tack on the publicity the band brings to anyone that may see them perform (mainly business reps with influence), and there are a lot of dollars floating around.
        There have been several times in my career (fortune 100 company) where I’ve told people where I went to college, and the first thin they mention is the band. Now, I’m not saying that the band is the most important part of the university, but it’s definitely one of the most visible. That visibility, in turn, brings in dollars to other areas of the university.
        On the idea that a ban would eliminate hazing – I completely disagree. It has been proven time and again that bans just don’t work. Even on FAMU’s campus, fraternities and sororities have been suspended for hazing for 4+ years, only to be found hazing again once they return. This is a cultural problem that is bigger than the university that a simple ban will not resolve.
        I’m not saying that a ban shouldn’t happen, but I think we need to be a little smarter in our approach and actually come up with resolutions that will work. Workshops and signing statements are fine, but the band members are already doing those. If you ask any of them at random, they can probably quote the statute that covers hazing. We could when I was marching and people were still being hazed.
        So what are the answers? I don’t know. And I know I’ve gotten a bit off topic, but I think this is a much larger issue for the university and the country as a whole than the soundbytes are making it out to be.

        (And what about the fact that marching band is an academic course for music majors? How would a ban affect those students? Do they all leave FAMU since thy cannot complete their coursework? The academic piece of the puzzle is another area that’s often overlooked too. Ok, I’m done, lol)

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