Amid PAC-12 realignment, OSU Marching Band members confident for program’s future

Fifth-year saxophonist Mayri Ross (she/they) poses with her saxophone on OSU campus on August 16. Ross shows excitement with her instrument as she is passionate about Marching Band.
Fifth-year saxophonist Mayri Ross (she/they) poses with her saxophone on OSU campus on August 16. Ross shows excitement with her instrument as she is passionate about Marching Band.
Morgan Berryman

For more than a century, the Oregon State University Marching Band has played the sounds of celebration.

Even the most casual Beaver fan can more likely than not hum along to “Hail to Old OSU,” and if you have been to an Oregon State football game you will have heard Reser Stadium’s public address announcer introduce the band as “the oldest marching band in the PAC-12.”

However, with uncertainty swirling around the conference’s very existence after 2024, the OSUMB may soon become the nation’s oldest marching band in search of a new conference to call home.

“Definitely feel pretty sad and disappointed about it,” said Peter Kuskie, a former OSUMB trumpeter and trumpet section leader who graduated in June. “I’m shocked, but also not super shocked. I could see it coming even if I didn’t want to believe it (was) coming.”

The departure of eight of the conference’s 12 members means not only the end of athletic rivalries, but also of a larger community among PAC-12 marching bands, according to OSUMB tenor saxophonist and recruitment officer Mayri Ross, a fifth-year at OSU.

“I think there was a lot of grief, and a lot of fear,” Ross said of many OSUMB members’ initial reaction. “Grief, because … as much as we have a rivalry with the (University of Oregon), one of the things we both say as band kids is ‘go band,’ and we do our best to support the musical culture. If you see a band kid from another school, you’re likely to be swapping hats, you’re likely to be talking about ‘Oh, well our band has this, what’s your favorite band lunch?’”

Kuskie, who was a marching band member in high school, said he did not experience this kind of community among bands until joining the OSUMB as a freshman.

“My first year, the Beavs were terrible … if you saw another person from another band and you said ‘Go Beavs,’ would you get a ‘Go Beavs’ back? Probably.” Kuskie said. “My freshman year, the women’s (basketball) team made it all the way to the Elite Eight in Lexington, Kentucky, and we were walking around downtown … (came) across Stanford people, from a block away yell ‘Go Beavs’ and got a ‘Go Beavs’ back from them.”

According to Daniel Bacher, a former OSUMB tenor saxophonist and section leader who graduated earlier this year, traveling to away games and tournaments provided opportunities to form connections with members of other PAC-12 bands.

“We get to travel a lot in the marching band,” Bacher said. “I think one of the first reactions that I had from the perspective of marching band was concern for those regional travel opportunities.”

During Bacher’s time on the band, the OSUMB traveled with the football team to away games in Seattle (against the University of Washington), Berkeley (against the University of California, Berkeley) and Eugene (against the University of Oregon).

Additionally, the band travels to bowl game appearances, and to the PAC-12 basketball tournament in Las Vegas.

“For the basketball tournaments, only a very small group go, I think 30 to 40, and they take a flight,” Bacher said. “When we went to (the Las Vegas Bowl) we were on six buses.”

Band members traveling to one of the PAC-12 tournaments need to plan around the multi-day trip, according to Bacher, who missed two days of class to go this year. However, this is complicated, because those traveling to the tournament do not know when they will return until the team is eliminated.

“The turnaround from when the team loses in the tournament and when we have to be on a plane back to Portland… it can be pretty quick,” Bacher said. “This year… we were playing the last game of the day. So our game started at 8 p.m., and it went to about 10. And when we didn’t win that game, we knew that we had to come back, and our call time back at the hotel to go to the airport the next morning was at 5 a.m.”

For PAC-12 teams departing for the BIG-10 and BIG-12, tournament travel is about to become more difficult.

The BIG-10 held its men’s basketball tournament in Chicago in 2023, and its women’s tournament took place in Minneapolis. The BIG-12, meanwhile, hosted both its men’s and women’s tournaments in Kansas City, Missouri.

“No one ever bothered to think about the student athletes,” Ross said. “The conferences within the NCAA have become so big business that it’s going to sap the life out of the students … I do not envy them and I hope they know the band kids have their support for student athletes.”

As the crow flies, Las Vegas is approximately 690 miles away from Eugene, according to Google Maps. Chicago, by contrast, is almost 1800 miles away.

“When you travel to the East Coast, especially from the west, you have to account for the fact that you’re losing time as well, so I’m imagining that if we were to have to go to Chicago or someplace like that, we would have probably had to leave earlier in the day, and then I might have to miss even more class,” Bacher said.

Despite the upheaval, the program’s members have expressed confidence in the program’s ability to survive and thrive in this changing environment.

“It’s going to take a lot more than changing what team we’re playing to get rid of us,” Kuskie said.

Indeed, the marching band has overcome bigger challenges. In 1991, OSU was forced to make sweeping budget cuts following the passage of 1990’s Oregon Ballot Measure 5, which, according to the OSU Library, placed limits on property taxes in Oregon. According to the June 27, 1991 Daily Barometer, the marching band’s budget was one of the things cut.

“To my knowledge, we are the only major university in the United States that will not have a marching band,” then-OSU Band Director James Douglass said at the time.

The change would last all of a year, and by September of 1992 the band was back, now supported entirely by student fees and donations, according to the Sept. 28, 1992 Daily Barometer.

According to Ross, the OSUMB currently receives only 7% of its operational budget from OSU Athletics, with the remainder still coming from student fees and donations. According to Kuskie, this makes the band “probably more insulated” from any athletic budget cuts.

With one year of certainty left in the PAC-12, the marching band does have a change they can look forward to: the $162 million renovation of Reser Stadium, which will be finished before the Beavers’ home opener on Sept. 9.

“I have been so ready for this, because we haven’t had a regular concourse,” Ross said. “So now that we are going to have that amazing concourse our sound is going to travel.”

Kuskie, whose section used to rehearse under the old west stand, said the stand held memories, but that the replacement was needed. 

“It was kind of sad seeing those torn down, seeing as it had a bunch of other memories from the area, but I also recognized ‘Oh, it’s good they’re tearing these down so I don’t have concrete falling and hitting me on the head again,’” Kuskie said.

According to Ross, the newly-renovated stadium will be host to a record-high number of members joining this year’s marching band.

“We’ve hit a historic high this year, we’ve had 305 people sign up with intent to march on the field this season,” Ross said. “I don’t see that slowing down, personally, even with the change… If you’re going to college, and you’re going for the band, it’s more likely that you’ll focus a lot more on the band and the culture itself.”

Was this article helpful?
Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Daily Barometer Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *