May 17 / Todd

JMU Walks Away From One Of The Kings of Rootin’

JMU_PEP_BAND_PLAYERSSo the few of you who have been with us for the long haul in this little dorkfest/project we call JMUSB may remember we used to have more fire. Or at least we ranted incoherently and blindly threw shade at the administration more often. Over the last few years, we mellowed a bit for many reasons. Partly we got older. Rob is raising two great little Dukes fans and realized there’s more to life than being pissed at another Sherm Dillard debacle on a Tuesday. I started working in higher education at another school and gained sympathy for those administrators balancing a hundred different priorities after being on the other side. TV rights fees dried up in college sports, especially for the paltry FBS conferences we once aspired to join and JMU’s odd/misguided/accidental decision to invest in FCS power somehow seems to be looking better and better by the month as its become inarguable that from a pride/success/exposure angle schools like JMU and NDSU have clearly come out smelling like a rose the last two years and the FBS vs. FCS decision has simmered down as we all wait for the next big sea -change in college football. And most importantly of all, with the exception of men’s hoops, JMU has been absolutely crushing things in competition. Football, Softball, Women’s Hoops, Lax, Field Hockey, and the great Olivia Lehman have all been outstanding and that’s definitely forgetting a few. The incredible kids – on and off the field – that JMU has been producing and the at-least-from-the-outside appearance that the school is delivering on its promise to be a model for the student-athlete experience have made us truly proud to be Dukes. And on a personal level, some of the young, way-hipper-than-we-are Duke Club staff realized we might be turned back to the light and convinced to be a force for good. It made us feel incredible and the friends we’ve been so fortunate to make simply by keeping this thing going allowed us to deliver on that hope in our own minuscule way. Hell, they even gave us a “major award.” We started to feel almost like the apologists we so closely guarded ourselves against becoming for so long.

But to borrow from Mr. Madison’s predecessor as commander-in-chief and the founder of that school over the mountain where all the football players want to transfer and be Dukes these days, every so often the tree of anger must be refreshed with the blood of terrible and uninformed faculty decisions. And with one move last week primarily executed by JMU’s venerated School of Music, I’m back baby. Yelling, kicking, and losing my shit with little actual information just like the old days. Well, as best as I can these days when a circumstance requires comment but may not really have one true villian.

If you haven’t heard, JMU essentially fired Chad Reep, the Pep Band Director and an outsized influence on the magic that has infiltrated the Pep Band, the MRDs, and most of the great developments in JMU fan culture over the last six years. Start Wearing Purple? That was Chad. Intimidating visiting teams from the risers at the Convo for women’s games? That was Chad. Making Indiana fans tell us in Dayton “holy shit, that band is legit and we are ashamed by our barber-shop quartet in comparison?” That was Chad. He came from humble beginnings as a Montana Grizzly, which immediately made him understand what FCS football can be at its best – i.e. something that a fanbase can be every bit as passionate about as any FBS school even if it’s on a smaller stage. In JMU’s case, that’s a Harrisonburg-sized version of a LSU Tigers game. We may lose the game, but we never lose a tailgate. It’s hard to remember through the purple haze of national rankings and conference championships, but the Dukes were getting smoked in the spirit department by Doc Nix’s Green Machine at GMCC and VCU’s creative outfit before the downfall of the CAA. Chad was there to bring pride, and song selections from this century, back to the purple and gold. And no one, I mean not one single person anywhere in JMU Nation, rooted harder fer the Dukes, bud. Not to mention, no one defended JMU more than Mr. Reep. My first real interaction with Chad was when he publicly called me out on Twitter for some asinine and inappropriate comments about the administration in the wake of one of many FBS rants back in late 2012 or early 2013 and made Rob and I have our own come-to-Uncle-Ron meeting about whether we I was living up to our “better than the message boards” mantra. We never became more than the most casual of acquaintances (in the sense that he might recognize us from across Godwin Field pregame), but I like to think we made our peace and developed a wee bit of mutual respect for each other as fellow rooters.

So here’s the story as we understand it. We have the contours right if not the details so don’t freak out; as we’ve always said we’re an independent dork blog. We hope not to be anonymous message board lunatics, but we’re also not a news organization with standards or onerous shit like that. And most of all, please don’t go yelling at administrators, BOV members, or faculty because Chad himself seems to be nothing but grateful for everything he’s had the chance to do at JMU. It’s no surprise that he seems to be taking the high road in every respect and has nothing but positive things to say about something that stinks on ice. We respect him all the more for it. But damn it, this is JMUSB and the high road ain’t for all of us.

Chad was working on an annual contract, basically a junior or adjunct faculty member in the School of Music. His duties, as most of us know, included directing the pep band, being hugely involved with the MRDs, and directing the Concert Band. The pep band grew enormously under his leadership thanks to becoming something that offered its members an experience they were looking for. Presumably, that experience included playing fun, relevant music awesomely and being a part of the growing tradition in JMU Athletics. Surprisingly to us, he wasn’t a part of the Athletic Department. And that’s where things get interesting. You have to remember that to the bean counters on the Finance side at JMU, the MRDs and the Pep Band are simply an expensive line item and it stands to reason that occasionally the pride they bring to all Dukes and the contributions they make to the larger community at JMU get forgotten when they come asking for more resources. They’ve traditionally been counted in the Athletics budget and certainly haven’t been on the School of Music’s tab.

Despite those things, the Music faculty seemed to have realized that the position – including its duties and influence – had become big and important enough to warrant becoming a full-time/long-term faculty slot (again, we know our terminology is off but you get the picture) . Bottom line, they advertised the new position, set up a hiring committee, and hired someone else despite all that Chad has accomplished and been a part of at JMU. Everything we’ve heard says that Athletics, and their small representation on the committee, was all-in on keeping Chad. So what happened?

Look, no one can say for sure except the Dean of the School of Music, the committee, MRD Director Scott Rikkers, and maybe someone in HR. But one thing’s for sure, the Music folks were caught off-guard by the blowback and outcry when the decision became public last week. The fact that it went public on the same day Softball was winning the CAA championship and lacrosse was winning their first NCAA tournament game in seven years was a frustrating reminder of days gone by when we ranted because we just couldn’t have nice things thanks to administration logic we couldn’t understand.

Bottom line seems to be that the School of Music wanted to reassert its authority over a faculty position in their department (and their budget) and didn’t quite grasp just how big of a factor the Athletics/Spirit-related aspect of the job had become. Or maybe Chad, an adjunct, had in their eyes gained outsized notoriety for a guy with only a Masters in Wind Conducting from JMU and a BA from Montana? That would suck, but its not out of line or even necessarily inappropriate for faculty members to be a bit snobbish on things like CV’s and pedigree. In many ways, that’s their job and JMU benefits from them doing that job well.

But we are left to question whether someone with an overarching view should’ve pointed out the bigger picture here and tried to navigate these waters with a lighter touch? If there was a reason they didn’t want to bring Chad back that they knew from the beginning and his candidacy was a mere courtesy, why not let him know back at the beginning of the process and allow him to exit gracefully with more time to find another gig? If the University is not interested in furthering the interests of the Pep Band and/or MRD’s because it’s too expensive or simply somewhat out of line with the School of Music’s primary mission, why not a statement owning that position and switching that burden to Athletics if it’s that important to that department? And shouldn’t someone somewhere have pointed out that you might be putting the new person in a tough spot? (And please please please don’t blame any of this on the new person. From what we’ve heard, she’s an innocent bystander in this and a former Duke so there’s absolutely no reason to not throw our full support behind her and hope for the best).

Unfortunately, there is no obvious person who would’ve had such an overarching view. We have some ideas, but honestly we don’t know enough about the political pressures those folks might’ve been under in their own departments so it’s really not worth speculating and fanning flames that may not be warranted.

But there are two things that need to be said. First, booo JMU all-around. This just stinks. It stinks bad. And please make sure to get those with a grasp of the larger picture in mind in the room early on these decisions going forward. If the bean-counter’s position takes priority, we can live with that. Same if it’s the faculty’s position that is most valued. But for the sake of the individual lives and families involved, and the impact on the community at large, just make it clear. Basically, get your shit together and realize that if you don’t want rabble-rousers like us and others to discuss these things and raise the issue, just tell us whatever you can of the story and we’ll go pound sand.

But second, and most importantly of all, we just want to say an enormous and heartfelt thank you to Chad Reep for all that he’s done to enhance our experience being involved with JMU the last six years! And from the outcry and support we saw from JMU Nation this past week, we know we’re not alone. There are so many students, staff, and current and former athletes and coaches that have been blessed by your presence in the Valley. In particular, what you and the Pep Band did for the atmosphere at women’s hoops games will never be forgotten. We wish you all the best going forward, and you’ll always have a place in JMU Nation. And hey, if you stick around, it’s always sunny in a place you’ve never had the chance to fully enjoy – P-Lot!

 

6 Comments

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  1. The Smoking Gun / May 18 2017

    Fire Scott Rikkers. For them to do Chad like this is the dirtiest thing I’ve ever seen. Just such an idiotic move.

  2. ShadyP / May 18 2017

    Perhaps the timing was not the greatest, but I am not gonna rake JMU and the school of music across the coals for making a decision to go in another direction for this position. Perhaps as this position went from an adjunct type position to become full-time faculty and reporting under the School of Music wanted the School of Music wanted someone with a little more pedigree or paper. Also, just perhaps the new person Amy Birdsong blew them away during the process and Chad approached as he was a ‘shoe-in’ and took it for granted that the job was his. I am sure the students he worked with are quite disappointed just as some football players were disappointed when Mickey Matthews got shown the door…….heck look what he had done for JMU after Alex Woods.

    I caution everyone to look forward to what can be done and opportunities exist. Look at football as we progressed from Matthews —> Withers —> Houston. The same can be the case for this new hire in Amy Birdsong.

  3. Dukes69 / May 18 2017

    His name is Chud, not Chad.

  4. Mike in Ohio / May 18 2017

    At the few basketball games I have attended I always enjoyed the pep band and thought they added alot of atmosphere to the Covo and when I heard them in Dayton at the First Four, they were impressive there, don’t know anything about this situation but I do know that adjuncts are rarely hired for full time jobs when they come open. May have just been that but if a higher or middle level college administrator was involved in any way then it was probably a closed door kind of decision. Not alot of things worse than a college administrator. New director will have a challenge to make the band as entertaining but she’ll put her own stamp on it and as long as they don’t start playing opera during timeouts it will probably be ok.

  5. ShadyP / May 19 2017

    Totally agree with Mike in Ohio……the pep band adds to the atmosphere but not why most folks come to a game.

  6. Ken / May 29 2017

    Have you watched our men’s team over the past 3 decades? Most nights the band was the ONLY reason to be in the gym…

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