America’s favorite pastime has a history unlike most sports at USD. The Coyote athletic department made the move to cut baseball just over 15 years ago, and is one of three Summit League schools without baseball (UND and Denver are the others).
USD baseball was the first athletic program at the university in 1886, but because of unpredictable weather in South Dakota, there was no certainty in whether the team played each spring or not. Baseball was not a part of the athletic department from 1987 to 1991. In 1991, USD welcomed baseball back to the athletic department, where it stayed until 2004.
Jason and Jeff Huska are brothers from Vermillion. When they graduated high school, USD didn’t have a baseball team. They ended up on scholarships to play at Missouri Southern State University. Halfway through their first year at MSSU, they caught word that USD was bringing baseball back after a four-year break. Come spring, they were both playing college baseball in their hometown. Jason and Jeff Huska were inducted into the Coyote Sports Hall of Fame in 2015. Both players earned all-North Central Conference honors three times, the only players in program history to do so. Jeff graduated being the program leader in eight different offensive statistics.
“It was halfway into our first year in Missouri when we heard that USD is bringing baseball back. Being from Vermillion, we were able to keep in touch with certain people to keep us informed,” Jason Huska said, who caught his freshman year and played first base his other three. “We ended up transferring to USD from MSSU without losing any eligibility. We both knowingly took a much smaller scholarship to be part of bringing back baseball to a university that we wanted to be a part of. We wanted to be Coyotes.”
They are two of eight Hall of Famers from the sport and the only ones to be inducted in the 2000s. Though they graduated 10 years before the sport was cut, the removal still came as a disappointment.
“I was extremely disappointed that they dropped baseball,” Jeff Huska said. “I felt bad for all the current and future Coyote baseball players. They were not going to experience what I did as a student-athlete. I am still not sure what the real reason for dropping the program was. I’ve heard several explanations but nothing that makes me okay with it.”
“USD baseball gave me a great memory of USD and it was sad to think other baseball players would not be able to experience that,” Jason Huska said.
The decision to remove baseball from the university’s list of athletic programs was made by former USD athletic director Joel Nielsen in April 2004. Nielsen cited an effort to reach compliance of Title IX, competitive issues and budget constraints as reasons for the cut.
USD saved approximately $100,000 by cutting the team, and the money went to funding opportunities in women’s sports. The baseball team also played their games at Prentis Park, which was often considered the worst field in the conference. USD never won an NCC title. Many players were upset and transferred after the 2004 season.
Josh Lundin was a freshman pitcher at the time of the team’s removal. Lundin told The Volante in 2004 he planned to transfer when the cut was made.
“I am definitely going to find another school to play at,” Lundin said. “Baseball is a big part of what I want to do at college. It just doesn’t make sense to stay here.”
The competitiveness of USD baseball was in part due to the recruiting struggle.
“It is a challenge to recruit for this facility,” Nielsen told The Volante. “It has affected our ability to recruit a top-level baseball player when they look at comparative institutions.”
USD has a club baseball team that plays at Prentis Park in the spring. The effort to stay in compliance with Title IX still has effects on USD’s athletic department today. Most recently, a women’s triathlon team was added in the fall of 2018.
As for baseball, the Coyotes’ final game was in Brookings, S.D. on May 1, 2004. They split a double-header with SDSU, winning game one 4-3 and dropping the second game 11-9.