Rice band's 'Todd Graham's Inferno' not a hit with Tulsa

Updated: November 27, 2007, 7:14 PM ET
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Tulsa has filed a complaint with Conference USA regarding a halftime performance by the Rice marching band ridiculing coach Todd Graham, who left Rice after one season to coach the Golden Hurricane.

The theme of the performance by the Marching Owl Band was a search for Graham through nine circles of hell based on Dante's "Divine Comedy."

"I think anyone has an opinion and can express a view about people's behavior, but creating a production and presenting it to fans is entirely different than expressing an individual's view of behavior," Tulsa athletic director Bubba Cunningham said.

The Rice band has a history of edgy performances dating back for several decades. Director of bands Chuck Throckmorton compared the band's approach to those at Ivy League schools and Stanford.

"I think that a lot of times those bands set out seeking to start a controversy and we set out seeking to be entertaining and the controversies end up being a bit of a surprise," Throckmorton said.

Throckmorton said the band was conveying the "general atmosphere of displeasure" and betrayal that students felt when Graham signed a two-year contract extension to stay at Rice only days before he agreed to return to Tulsa.

Graham, who had previously been a defensive coordinator for Steve Kragthorpe at Tulsa, took the Owls to their first bowl game in 45 years in his only season in Houston.

"It's been conversation among students all campus of, 'Boy we can't wait for the Tulsa show because that's the chance to let him know how we feel about it,'" Throckmorton said.

The performance suggested that Graham's shredded contract was found in the fourth circle of hell with the greedy and the avaricious -- also claiming that former Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione was in that circle -- and the coach could be found beyond hell's greatest depths behind a door marked "Welcome To Tulsa."

"I think they have a long tradition of priding themselves on being irreverent and sometimes you cross the line, and we think they did this time," Cunningham said.

Cunningham said Tulsa sent its complaint to the Conference USA office Monday.

"We haven't requested anything specifically," Cunningham said. "What we're hoping to achieve is trying to create environments at all of our athletic events that are supportive of student-athletes and not vulgar or demeaning to individuals, institutions or other groups."

Cunningham said it's common for schools to make suggestions to each other about the game day atmosphere and what constitutes a proper standard.

"If somebody has a bad experience at our place, I want to know it so we can correct it," Cunningham said.

Throckmorton said the band's intent is to entertain and not to cause harm, although he said it's also common for the band to receive letters criticizing its performances. He said the band expected Tulsa "to be a bit indignant."

"The best reaction from an audience is laughter, which by the way we did [get]," Throckmorton said. "I think the next best reaction is that they're shocked because they did not know which direction you were going with that."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press