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Report from Final Four--Battle of the Bands

Outside the RCA Dome a little while ago, I ran into several members of the George Mason University pep band, who got to fly in and stay at a very nice hotel, courtesy of the NCAA (and therefore of CBS.)

In exchange, they're doing all sorts of CBS appearances, from the early morning news program to the 7 p.m. local news in Washington, as well as appearing in a battle of the bands concert for the folks who are hanging out in downtown Indianapolis.

You'll be proud to hear that the Mason band members I met are both diplomatic and courteous when it comes to the comparisons that everyone is inevitably making between everything George Mason U does and what the Big Hoops Schools do. So when a guy in the Florida band shouts out "Who's George Mason?" in a good imitation of a drunken roar, the Mason players smile and tell me that the members of the other bands are "really nice people," as Donna Hanzlik put it, and that their level of musical ability is "comparable," as Allison Odmark said. (A career at the State Department for Allison?)

The musicians were a bit taken aback when an 82-year-old Florida fan -- she made a point of mentioning her age-- came up to them and said, "I hope you know we're going to beat you tomorrow." The Mason folk were polite enough not to respond in kind.

By the way, if you think the college hoops competition is tough, get a load of this: The NCAA limits each pep band to 30 people. Mason's band manager, Kevin Thielemann, could easily have put together 85 musicians; he regularly has 35 to 45 players at home games in Fairfax. But he had to pare the group down to 29 musicians (he's the 30th), and he did so through an ancient and secretive methodology based on seniority and auditions. And who he likes. (Kidding.)

The ones who are here are pretty pumped about it. And about the parties that will get going later tonight, when all those buses that left Fairfax this morning finally start rolling in. We'll be there. Check back later or tomorrow for more.

By Marc Fisher |  March 31, 2006; 6:18 PM ET
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