TALLAHASSEE — Florida A&M University's acclaimed Marching 100 band will return from a 19-month suspension following the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion.
When the band will return and what it will look like are not yet determined.
"Considering all of the measures we have put in place, I believe that this constitutes what I've been saying for the past several months: the right conditions to lift the suspension of the Marching 100," interim FAMU president Larry Robinson said during a news conference Thursday attended by more than 100 students and FAMU supporters.
Robinson talked about all the changes that have taken place at FAMU since Champion's death after the Orlando Classic football game in November 2011. That includes training for students and staff, hiring new staff and building an anti-hazing website where students can file reports anonymously.
"I want to re-emphasize that I'm taking this action based upon all the work that has been done over this last year-and-a-half to ensure that we have an even safer campus for students at this university," Robinson said.
New band director Sylvester Young, on the job just two weeks, will decide when the Marching 100 will return. He is evaluating students, and a marching band class meets every Monday and Wednesday. While interviewing for the job, Young said he could have the band ready to perform by the first game of the year: the MEAC-SWAC Challenge in Orlando on Sept. 1.
"We've been working as if that date was the ideal," Young said. "However, we're still working to get things ready, and I guess at some point we'll make a decision about that." The decision will largely depend on whether students are ready, he said.
Scaled-down performances could be the standard early on.
Usually, the Marching 100 is the star of FAMU home games and even most away games. The band performs before the football team takes the field, at halftime and from the stands throughout the game. Members often stay behind afterward to show off their musical skills and challenge opposing bands, a ritual known as the "Fifth Quarter."
FAMU has new standards in place for how many hours the band can practice each week, limits on how many years students can participate in the band and stricter requirements for band scholarships. That could mean the Marching 100 is smaller than before, when ranks swelled to over 400 members by some reports.
Champion died after a hazing ritual where he was beaten violently as he walked down the aisle of a bus. Doctors said he absorbed more than 300 blows.
Roughly a dozen band members faced felony hazing charges; many accepted plea deals that included probation or community service, but cases are still pending. Champion's family filed a civil suit against FAMU, the bus company and hotel alleging the hazing could have been prevented. That case is pending, too.
In the wake of Champion's death, band director Julian White and FAMU president James Ammons resigned.
Jeremy Linnen, a tuba player from Fayetteville, N.C., said he is excited to return to the field after losing a season to the suspension. And he believes the focus on bringing back the musical standards that made the Marching 100 a world-renowned band will leave no room for hazing activities that caused the downfall.
"As a student, I feel like we have to work really hard so that when we can come back it will be the same band you saw," he said.
Student body president Anthony Siders said it is a chance for FAMU to prove itself. "Yes we have a tradition here, a great legacy of excellence," he said, "but in regards to the culture of hazing that's been eradicated over time, the students do understand the severity and the importance that it must go or this university will not live."