Ohio State marching band director fired

University alleges he knew about and ignored 'serious cultural issues'
Associated Press
Jul 24, 2014


Ohio State University fired the director of its celebrated marching band on Thursday amid allegations he knew about and ignored "serious cultural issues," some involving rituals where students were pressured to march in their underwear or participate in sexually themed stunts.

Jonathan Waters had led the band since 2012, and served in lesser capacities for a decade before that. His halftime shows for what's known to fans as "The Best Damn Band in the Land" were considered revolutionary and drew millions of viewers on YouTube.

Email and phone messages were left with Waters and the band alumni association seeking comment. The firing was first reported by The Columbus Dispatch.

Ohio State President Michael Drake, on the job just three weeks, issued a video statement on the university website indicating a two-month investigation uncovered a "sexualized" culture inside the band and determined Waters knew about and failed to stop harassment. A spokesman said the university was required to promptly perform the probe after a parent complained, under federal Title IX sexual discrimination laws.

"Nothing is more important than the safety of our students," Drake said. "We expect every member of our community to live up to a common standard of decency and mutual respect and to adhere to university policies."

Many of the activities were longstanding traditions that predated Waters' tenure as director, the report said.

The parent complaint said band members must swear secrecy oaths "about objectionable traditions and customs," including a late-night march in which band members stripped down to their underwear. Investigators found band directors, including Waters, and staff had been present at times for the march, which predated Waters' tenure as director. One female student said more senior members of the band warn new members about the event, and advise them to wear items that provide "fuller coverage."

Assistant Director Michael Smith said he'd witnessed the optional underwear march — though some wear pajamas or shorts while others go completely naked, according to witnesses — and said he didn't believe what he'd seen. An associate band director, Christopher Hech, said he recalled a student having alcohol poisoning at the event some years ago.

The report also described students earning sexually themed nicknames based on performances other band members assigned them: One female student had to pretend to orgasm while sitting on the lap of her younger brother, a fellow band member, and others pretended to be sex toys, prostitutes or body parts.

Waters started in the band as an undergraduate, playing sousaphone all four years during college. He graduated in 2000 and became a graduate assistant with the band, its assistant director and then interim director under Jon Woods, who retired two years ago after 25 years. Waters told an OSU Alumni Club gathering in Chillicothe in March is was "the greatest job in America."

During his tenure, Waters revolutionized the band's halftime shows through the use of iPads instead of paper, allowing students to morph into the shapes of horses, superheroes and dinosaurs galloping, flying and tromping across the field. Its technological advances landed the band in an Apple commercial in January. One performance in which the band takes the shape of a moonwalking Michael Jackson has more than 10 million views on YouTube.

Drake said the band season will go on as usual as the search for a new director begins. Members of the 225-member band are scheduled to perform this weekend with the Columbus Symphony, in an annual event considered the unofficial start of its season.

The university has appointed former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery to lead an independent task force assigned to review the matter, which will include representatives from Ernst & Young, the Sports Conflict Institute and outside counsel to provide guidance on Title IX compliance.

Drake, the university's first black president, said he'll abide by a zero tolerance policy going forward: "I view this as a new day and an opportunity for the Ohio State community to come together and embrace the values and behavior that have made this University great."



The Answer Person

Mixed feelings about this. If this was the "program" when he was hired, you can't tell us that no one ever knew this was going on? doesn't surprise me though. Whole lot of that format and attitude down there.


I just read every page of the investigation. He knew it was going on the entire time. He saw their song lyrics, nicknames, trip tic game, all of it. He had no control over them at all.

Just because the program behaved like that when he was hired, doesnt make it right. He should have taken control and put a stop to it.


Easier said than done


I also hate that they referred to this as "traditions" and "customs." It was ritualized and accepted harassment.

William Jeffers...

Drake, the university's first black president, said he'll abide by a zero tolerance policy going forward

Was commenting on his race really necessary to convey anything about this story ????

The Answer Person

Of course.


Absolutely irrelevant!


Betty Montgomery??? God help us..I can't think of somebody lesser qualified than her to lead a sexual harassment investigation in an academic environment.

The Answer Person

I know. I laughed out loud when I heard that SHE was coming down to do an investigation?!?!


If you don't like it, then quit.


I agree though, I wouldn't want to see to many band members in their underware.

The Answer Person

The important question for the school will be whether the SCHOOL actually took steps and instructed Waters to get it under control or eliminate it. Otherwise he may indeed have a case.

From the Grave

Underwear and pajamas? You can see that at the mall every day.


I do believe this guy worked at Lakeside sometime ago with a sister of mine. I believe my sister mentioned that to me sometime ago...was he a local here or a summer employee in the area..does anyone know??


Oh boy this is quite a blow. This Jonathan Waters was the hand picked successor by previous director Dr Jon Woods. The later being a legend at OSU for years as the director.

Personally, I thought this Waters was very talented and rose up the ranks at OSU quickly but when you had Dr Woods as your promoter that was all it took. He was a relatively young director for a band of that level of achievement. Give him credit he did greatly spice up the shows at half time from Dr Woods later days at OSU.

I was disappointed when this Jonathan Waters was chosen from a field of several for he did not have his doctorate as Dr Jon Woods. I hope this go around OSU does chose a director with her/his doctorate in music. I think a job at the university level and with a band of this magnitude should have a director with a Doctorate in Music.

Sandumpy Proud

Sounds like a good time to me. Maybe I should have joined the band.


I read the report. And I absolutely agree that the OSUMB culture must change. So did Jon. And how do I know this about Jon? As a former member of the OSUMB from '79 through '82, I've talked w/other TBDBITL alums who were in the OSUMB when Jon was an assistant from 2002-2012. What they shared was Jon faced much scrutiny from band members for trying to rid the band of many of its traditions . . . certain traditions that I remember as if they happened only yesterday. The culture of the OSUMB began with its roots as an all-male military group and there were many traditions born out of these early days that, while they may have been accepted, or rather, tolerated, by society then, they no longer are. And shouldn't be.

But Jon was trying to change the culture. He fully realized the Rites of Passage that started well before I was an OSUMB member simply could not be condoned or tolerated today. And let's be clear: every Director prior to Jon absolutely knew what was going on. Paul Droste, the Director during my time, was a former OSUMB member himself, so he knew full well what occurred every Autumn.

Jon doesn't have the Doctorate degree like his predecessor, Jon Woods, but the fire and energy and enthusiasm of Jon Waters is incredible. 99% of the active OSUMB members and TBDBITL alums, including yours truly, wondered why it took the University so long to move Jon from 'Interim' to outright Director status. Jon most definitely is the right person to lead the OSUMB.

To be fair, I have doubts that a person not familiar with the traditions of the OSUMB will be able to implement the changes OSU's new President seeks, and I honestly believe that if he is truly looking out for the safety of students and the reputation of the band and the university, he should re-hire Jon, establish an Oversight Committee to work with Jon, and give Jon the full support and backing to continue to implement these changes in ways that won't be detrimental to the band, a group which has ALWAYS brought positive publicity to the University in the past and has recently taken this positive publicity to new heights under the direction of Jon Waters.


I think you give a great insight into all of this from you seeing it up close and personal. For my part aside from all the negatives I will miss Jon Waters and the programs he put together at half time. Regardless of he not having a Doctorate which I wish he would have had I was amazed at the performances he put on at half time. For me I took my breaks from the stand during the game so I could watch the band fully.

As you have said all these Rites of Passage went on long before Waters. I am sure Dr Woods was aware of them and he did nothing. I am sure before this is over the negative will splash on him as well. Sure Gordon Gee past university president knew about it too. And this was a man who is a professor of law and should know well Title IX regulations.

I find it interesting in the news reports though that a "parent" complained. Not a student but a parent. The code of silence was obviously strong for the band students never broke that silence to complain. I have to give President Baker a lot of credit for doing what he did. Sure it was not easy to do all of this given the tremendous following of the OSU Band but given the Federal regulations he probably had no choice. To do this 3 weeks into the position of university president is quite impressive to me.

I doubt Waters will be rehired at OSU and doubt he will ever have a band again like OSU but he will be hired somewhere as a band director in time. I doubt too that OSUMB is the only band in America where this happens and at this point those other directors where it happens are most assurdedly shaking in their boots. They know well that one complaint from student, parent etc. can end their career in a heartbeat. Regulations are good and necessary but at time can go overboard and we suddenly find we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.


Great comment. It is good to hear from someone who knows what they are talking about, versus the many "shoot from the hip" wisecracks that pass for comments on this site.

Obviously Jon Waters was the fall guy for this mess. My question is who was Mr. Waters' bosses and should they also be held accountable? Hopefully, the investigation will get into these issues and not be just political cover for the university president.


OH, GET REAL! Everything about that college is shady.


Music is cool
football is lame

Sandumpy Proud

Pics or it didn't happen


Sex and college?..you dont say?...lol