With a 10-3 lead over Western Illinois and a crowd of 10,200, the University of South Dakota football team had it all going for them heading into halftime of the Dakota Days game Oct. 6.
Little did they know that as they prepared for the second half, hundreds of USD student fans were filing out of the bleachers and walking out of the DakotaDome.
USD swiftly lost the lead, inevitably losing 24-17 to WIU.
The obvious lack of fan support as of late has left USD administrators scratching their heads, wondering, where exactly students are going?
For USD athletic director David Sayler the real question is: Why do the students leave?
“It has been a frustrating situation,” Sayler said. “Student support is essential to college teams, they bring the energy and the atmosphere teams use to thrive. We need them at home games.”
Assistant director of Student Life Lindsay Sparks said the issue needs to be addressed by both the university and its students.
“The university really does need to address it and figure out what’s going on,” Sparks said. “But I also think students need to make the commitment.”
Sophomore Austin Johnson said he has been baffled by the lack of student fan support.
“(The students) represent this school and when we don’t stay at games, it reflects negatively on the university,” said Johnson.
Sparks said in order to improve the lack of student support at athletic events, the question over why students are leaving must be answered.
“When I talk to students who regularly leave games, most of them tell me they leave because their friends are leaving,” Sparks said. “We are still puzzled over why exactly students don’t want to stay, and until we do know, we can’t give them what they want.”
Sayler said efforts to improve student involvement at athletic events has been attempting in the past.
“We have tried to give things away during games and we are playing very student heavy music, but nothing seems to stick,” said Sayler.
While Sayler and Spark’s guess as to why students are leaving are good as any ones, Johnson said it all boils down to one thing. Alcohol.
“A lot of (students) leave because there is no alcohol served at the DakotaDome,” Johnson said. “They lose their buzz and then leave to go drink again.”
Sparks said the university is aware that alcohol is a factor, but serving alcohol at games to solve retention is out of the question.
“The DakotaDome is owned by the university,” Sparks said. “So, while we know some students say alcohol would help keep people there, our hands our tied.”
However, the re-emergence of Coyote Crazies, a organization priding itself on making their voices heard at USD athletics, could revitalize a lackluster athletic following.
“We’ve been working with a couple different students who want to bring Coyote Crazies back,” Sparks said. “Implementing a strong tradition with first-years, and maintaining that is very important.”
Head coach Joe Glenn said legacy of a fan base lies on the shoulders of the students.
“If students get to know their players and learn to cheer them on, then the longevity of the fan base will extend,” Glenn said.
As far as the university is concerned, Sayler said in order to improve the current situation, honesty is key.
“We need the students to be completely honest with us,” Sayler said. “We want them to tell us what they want to see at football games. If they are leaving because our team loses, or because there isn’t enough interaction, we want to know. Once we have a clear understanding at what is driving students away at halftime, we will being to work towards improving the experience as much as we can.”