Hannah Saad | @hannah_saad21
The famous Million Dollar Band (MDB) will look dramatically different this Saturday: Only 96 of its 400 members will be present for Alabama football’s home opener against the Texas A&M Aggies.
According to MDB members junior Charli Jones and senior Chad Murdock, the original plan was to have the MDB perform in halves so that each member would get to see at least two football games this season. Early last week, however, the Athletic Department decided to reduce the number of MDB members at each game from 200 to 96. The UA Athletic Department and athletic director Greg Byrne released the following statement shortly after the decision:
“With mandatory reduced overall capacity at Bryant-Denny Stadium this season due to state law, every group of seat holders was affected, including the Million Dollar Band.
“Tickets for all non-football coaches and athletic department staff were eliminated. The allotment for football staff was reduced dramatically. Letterwinners, faculty/staff, students and other categories are at 20 percent of capacity. In terms of the student allotment, 40 percent of the available seats (comprising 20 percent of the total reduced number) go to seniors, 20 percent to juniors, 15 percent to sophomores and freshmen and 10 percent to graduate/professional students.
“The combined numbers for the band and other spirit groups are consistent with the above and in line with the majority of schools across the SEC. We are making sure each senior has the ability to participate in two games.
“Despite the daunting challenges we face along with our counterparts throughout the conference and the country, we feel strongly that our staff has developed a plan that works best for all constituencies. We will continue to evaluate all measures and hope to increase capacity later in the season based on mandatory regulations and COVID-19 testing availability.”
Jones said that a petition was started to encourage the athletic department to overturn their decision. As of October 2, the petition has reached over 11,000 signatures.
On September 24, Byrne made an appearance at the band field and apologized for the timing decision, according to Jones.
“He said because our fans show up to our games and give us so much money, without saying that money was the reason for this,” Jones said. “He said that since the fans financially support the team so much that they should have a chance to purchase a ticket so that’s why [the athletic department] isn’t doing the same as Auburn.”
The Auburn athletic department is allowing half of their band members to perform at the game while giving tickets to the other half so that everyone can go to each home game. When asked about Byrne’s interactions with the MDB and the decision that week, the UA athletic department referred to the released statement as well as a statement from the MDB director Ken Ozzello.
Some members of the band took to Twitter to speak out on this issue, but most were unsuccessful. Murdock was one of the loudest voices from that group.
“I am just disappointed that athletics doesn’t value what we do,” Murdock said. “We just want what Auburn has which is 50% performers and 50% fans so that the Million Dollar Band is represented at every single game.”
Murdock also explained that the entire band is not allowed to practice together. Instead, the members who play in a particular game will only be allowed to practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the two weeks prior to that game. He said that this newly developed method has severely affected the band’s noise level and harmony.
One thing that Jones and Murdock both said was that was key to the success of the MDB was chemistry. Jones said skipping the annual band camp and missing off-field events has been the most difficult part of this COVID-19 stricken season. The whole experience for her has been “isolating and weird.”
“I’m not familiar with half the people in my section because I’m not able to practice with them,” Murdock said. “Usually you’re with them every single day of the fall and now we don’t see them at all. It’s definitely not as loud. This guy told me the other day that when he heard ‘Yea Alabama,’ he got chills but now it is just weak.”
Although Murdock is not happy with the current situation, Jones thinks that overall this is what is best for the band during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think they did it as fair as possible while keeping everyone safe,” Jones said.
One of the key factors behind this decision was social distancing and COVID-19 spread prevention. Ozzello also released a statement Sept. 25 after the decision to cut the MDB game day presence in half.
“Football game days are so special to so many people in this state and beyond who root for the Crimson Tide,” Ozzello said in the statement. “While we wish the Million Dollar Band in its entirety could attend a full season of games, we are excited to have football back and certainly understand the limitations of reduced crowd capacity. This is especially true considering these limitations are being implemented for the safety of both the students and fans. We have worked carefully with the UA Athletic Department to achieve the best possible outcome for all concerned relative to these unique circumstances and our overall environment.
“All of the 400 Million Dollar Band members will attend one of the five home games, and we are grateful that our senior members will have the opportunity to attend two.
“Million Dollar Band members will take several safety precautions to protect themselves and others in attendance including:
Always wearing face coverings (instrumentalists will wear specially designed masks that allowed them to play with their mask on)
Social distancing in the stands
Social distancing from fans
No pregame pep rallies
“Five different bands made up of 96 instrumentalist, color guard members and Crimsonettes will perform in the stands at the five home games. A greatly reduced staff of 10 members, including managers and trainers will attend each of the five home games as well.
“Regardless of the number, the Million Dollar Band will continue to provide the spirit and excitement fans come to expect at Crimson Tide football games!”