Away games for the Sooners will be missing a historic piece of Oklahoma football this upcoming season.
For the first time since 1993, the Pride of Oklahoma marching band will not travel with the football team during the regular season due to COVID-19 concerns. The decision was agreed upon by all Big 12 schools in early July, as first reported by the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams. OU's bands staff was notified of the Big 12's decision on July 7.
The Pride going to all football games started in 1994, the first year of Former OU President David Boren's tenure.
Neutral-site games such as OU-Texas, the Big 12 Championship and the College Football Playoff are still under consideration from the Big 12. Brian Britt, OU's director of athletic bands and the head of the Pride, says that not traveling is one of multiple changes to come to OU's athletic bands.
“I think everything's still really fluid right now with the current status of the virus," said Britt, who's going into his 19th season of being director of the Pride. "I think there's so many other things that have to be decided for just starting the season and keeping everyone safe.
“All of us understand that health and safety come first. … It's first and foremost about student safety.”
OU Athletics Director Joe Castiglione, head coach Lincoln Riley and numerous prominent college sports figures have expressed interest in moving the 2020 college football season to the spring. If that were the case, Shanti Simon, OU's director of bands, said the Pride would attempt to keep its streak of attending all OU games. However, Simon says the decision is still a ways out.
"It's very possible that if they decide to move football into the spring, we would want the try and participate in that as fully as possible," Simon said. "Depending on the COVID situation at that time, we would, of course, be able to make that decision. ... We try to be a part of that in any way that is safe."
Among the other concerns in discussion for OU bands now are social distancing when marching on campus before games and on the field. With over 300 members of the Pride marching in unison, shoulder to shoulder, Britt said he expects different marching formations that ensure more distance between the members and viewers.
OU's athletic bands haven't convened in person since March, before the NCAA Tournament and winter and spring sports were canceled due to the country's initial exposure to COVID-19. The pandemic has canceled the Pride's yearly summer training, prompting the band to meet virtually over Zoom.
Tyler Jones, a biomedical senior and a trombone section leader, hasn't played alongside his bandmates since OU's 63-28 loss to LSU in the 2019 Peach Bowl, and described the virtual practice process as being an interesting experience. Practicing over Zoom often includes warmups where a leader has bandmates play along while they're muted.
"We've been able to make the best of it," Jones said. "I think the biggest issue is the fact that it's very hard to run a rehearsal with a big group. For example, whenever someone's having to run the rehearsal or conduct, everyone else's mic has to be muted, and part of playing is being able to hear what they're playing. So it's kind of difficult."
The Pride is scheduled to return to campus for band camp on Aug. 15. Jones said he's hoping the event will happen, despite all of the changes he and his bandmates are going through.
"Whenever we were at the LSU game, I didn't expect that to potentially be my last game in the band," Jones said. "I wasn't mentally preparing for that. In the case that the Pride doesn't happen this year, it would be a bummer, especially for the seniors."