Cue the sad trombones: MSU band, cheer team get the boot from chartered plane to Final Four

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
The Michigan State pep band plays during a practice in Washington, D.C., last month.

The band will play on.

It'll just have to do so by bus.

Michigan State's pep band and cheer team have to make the trip to Minneapolis for the Final Four via chartered bus, because the team plane is too crowded with additional athletic-department and basketball program staff, university trustees and other dignitaries.

The band, Spartan Brass, and the cheer team were on the team's chartered flights for the previous two stops in the NCAA Tournament, in Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. There are 43 members of the band and cheer team traveling party.

The issue caused a ruckus on social media Wednesday morning when David Harns, who covers Michigan State athletics for, detailed the travel arrangements in since-deleted tweets. Harns, who later posted a screenshot of the deleted tweets for "transparency" sake, said the band and cheer teams lost their spots on the plane to trustees and other Michigan State staff members. "They're not thrilled," Harns wrote of the members of the band.

Michigan State released a statement Wednesday afternoon clarifying the situation.

“In general, the further a team goes in NCAA Tournament play, the greater the personnel needs are to staff and support the team’s appearance, especially during the Final Four,” said Matt Larson, Michigan State associate athletic director for communications, in a statement.

The Detroit News has requested a complete list of the traveling party; a university spokesperson declined to release that information.

The team plane (two-hour trip) and chartered bus (10-hour trip) were to depart Wednesday, ahead of Michigan State's game against Texas Tech on Saturday. The university said it is paying for the bus. The NCAA typically pays for a chartered plane, for trips of more than 350 miles to national-championship venues — for up to 100 people in the official travel party. According to the 2018-19 NCAA travel-reimbursement and per-diem guidelines, the official travel party must include 29 band members, 12 cheerleaders, one band director and one cheer coach (43 in all) to receive full travel and per-diem reimbursement.

The NCAA also pays for meals and hotels for the official travel party.

Michigan State released a statement from band director David Thornton, who noted the additional travel time will not lead to additional lost class time.

“We are excited about the opportunity to support the team and go to the Final Four,” Thornton said in the statement. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these students.

"And they are thrilled to be able to participate.”

As for the Board of Trustees, Michigan State said in its statement that airplane seats are "routinely made available" for board members "to allow them to represent the university at official events, which has no impact on band travel arrangements."

Michigan State said a "nearly identical" number of trustees will be on the plane to Minneapolis as were on the previous plane trips to Des Moines and Washington. The university did not specify how many of the eight trustees would be on the plane. Trustees often are able to bring one guest when they travel.

One trustee, Brian Mosallam, said on Twitter on Wednesday that it's his policy to make his own travel arrangements to save seats "for donors or MSU personnel." He said he is flying to Minneapolis on his own.

Thornton and a representative for the cheer team didn't immediately respond to requests for additional comment from The Detroit News.

Michigan State has the advantage of being closest of the four remaining schools to the Final Four site. The News reached out to the three other schools about travel arrangements for their band and cheer teams, and all three said they were flying their bands and cheer teams on the same charter with members of the basketball team. Texas Tech and Auburn flew Wednesday, Virginia is flying out Thursday.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984