When I first visited the University of South Dakota last winter, I was swept up in the euphoria of a typical college campus visit. Since I hail from southern Nebraska, I had never had any reason to visit Vermillion.
While my perception was likely skewed by the excitement of an unfamiliar campus, I distinctly remember walking away with the impression that the University of South Dakota supports its athletic teams with avid enthusiasm.
I’ve spent the last three months realizing how wrong I was.
The fall sports season was a primary source of my initial excitement in my first weeks on campus. After attending the first home football game against Colgate, my excitement was brutally crushed.
My vision of a thunderous student section and non-stop encouragement and support was shattered as reality set in. The majority of students cared about the game for the initial possessions, then promptly lost interest. Dozens deserted the DakotaDome at halftime, many of whom were too intoxicated to realize the game was far from over.
I will admit— my expectations may have been too high. I grew up with Cornhusker football, the undeniable God in the state of Nebraska. I’ve attended numerous games in Memorial Stadium, which currently holds a maximum capacity of 86,000 and is always expanding. After the electric experience of attending a game at Memorial Stadium, my expectations for USD football were bound to fail.
I also attended many Nebraska basketball games during my time in high school. Most college sports enthusiasts know as tradition-rich and legendary as Nebraska’s football program is, the basketball program is equally pitiful and historically awful. In 2008, Nebraska had the shortest roster in men’s basketball. Success is a never-ending plight for Nebrasketball. In short, they suck.
However, despite the lack of success in the program, Nebrasketball still manages to draw a rabid student section. Often this team sticks around with opponents of all kinds, rallying from the constant support of its students.
This was the type of atmosphere I expected for a Coyote football game: the team may not win, but at least the students would be there to support the players. However, the “Coyote Den” didn’t even come close to this atmosphere.
I hate to beat a dead horse as I know many people complain about lack of student support but it truly is appalling to me. Now that USD is officially a Division I institution, athletic talent in all sports must spike in order to remain competitive. The D-I status should attract a certain population of athletes that may not have considered coming here in the past. Still, USD is located in such a rural area. The draw to come here, as a recruit in any sport, is minimal. (The fact that USD is in South Dakota is already a major obstacle for landing big recruits). In order for a recruit to want to commit here, USD has to sell itself as an alternative to the major athletic programs (ex. Nebraska). Student support could be a huge selling point as an alternate option. Right now, student support stands as a glaring blemish on the athletic program scorecard.
I hope the winter sports season will provide a different student body than the one I experienced during the fall. Basketball is my favorite sport to watch and as both a student and fan, I hope our student body can at least resemble something along the lines of that at Nebrasketball games.
Who am I kidding? I’m expecting too much, and I’ll shut up about Nebraska now.