A rainy Saturday morning hindered the first tailgate of the football season, which saw roughly 50 attendees congregating outside the DakotaDome prior to USD’s showdown with Montana.
Tailgate returns as an option for fans this year and cosmetically remains the same, but the Coyote Crazies are aiming to change the experience for attendees. Across the street, The Heights and The Quarters could see an increase in tailgating activities in their inaugural year in Vermillion.
According to Director of Events Cameron Wilson increased demand for game tickets due to a lack of seating inside the Dome during renovations has led the university to expand gameday options and better the fan experience.
“What we want to do is create a new experience and shift the culture of what tailgating sounds like and looks like,” junior Marcus Destin, Coyote Crazies president said.
Re-vamping classic tailgate
From the outside,
Tailgate’s most notable change is the southeast corner, where the Crazies reserved space for games such as a giant Connect Four, pong and bags, along with a station for face-painting. In addition, the Crazies have five tents for student organizations to reserve. This leaves 15 spots on the north side of the space for general students to reserve.
Additionally, Director of Student Programming Doug Wagner has allowed the Crazies to sponsor music for tailgating events. While students are still welcome to play their own music, equipment will be provided for the Crazies who will be playing music from a 50-hour long playlist that Destin created.
“Largely it will look and feel a smidge different,” Wagner said. “If anything, we hope the atmosphere is more fun and reminiscent of an actual tailgate experience.”
Alcohol is allowed for those over 21 wearing a wristband, although Wagner indicated the rules and policies students must follow at tailgate are unchanged, such as no glass and the removal of vehicles by noon of the following day.
Although UPD reported no alcohol-related incidents on Saturday, safe drinking for students is a focus for both Wagner and the Crazies, as well as providing a fun environment for students who don’t drink.
“I understand that drinking is part of some student’s experience,” Wagner said. “But I think that there are some students who choose not to participate in that aspect of college life who maybe are avoiding an athletic event because they don’t want to be affiliated with that kind of activity.”
Destin said he hopes the Crazies can provide an event for students that balances between safety and inclusiveness for everyone.
“It’s all about being safe and making sure everybody’s having a good time,” Destin said. “And creating an inclusive area where everybody feels like you can drink, but it’s also about moderation and striking a balance.”
New neighbors on the block
As seating remains restricted for USD’s home games, students and fans are looking for alternative gameday activities outside of the Dome. Some of those include watching the game in the MUC and viewing parties at places such as The Quarters or The Heights — Vermillion’s newest luxury apartment complexes — something Athletic Director Dave Herbster addressed in an interview with the Argus Leader in July.
“I don’t know what to expect,” said The Heights Director of Student Housing Nick Bruhn on what this year’s game days will look like in his backyard, which features a swimming pool, 18-foot video board, pickleball court, grills and firepits in its courtyard. “I’m not too worried about it. The only thing I’m worried about is people making a mess.”
Bruhn said he does expect students to come from and go to tailgate through the courtyard’s gates throughout the day, and security will be in place to prevent injuries or damages. No incidents have occurred since The Heights opened in the summer, he said.
“We built the courtyard so people could actually go do this,” Bruhn said. “I think it’s gonna be great, I think the kids are gonna have a lot of fun, and I think it’ll be awesome that they can walk across the street for the game.”
Despite the options, Destin said he hopes students still stop by tailgate before heading to other venues if they’re unable to attend the game.
“I just hope it doesn’t take away from tailgating,” Destin said. “It’s a safe space to be and it’s close to the Dome. We want to bring as many people to this space as possible.”
Dome, sweet Dome
Destin said another initiative is keeping fans in the Dome throughout the game rather than for a quarter or half — a long-standing issue in the DakotaDome student section. Prior to games, a lottery will grant 90 Coyote Crazies members access to the front row in the student section. Those students also receive cheer gear and walk with the Crazies to the Dome.
Wagner, who characterized some of the tailgates from last year as “ghost towns,” is also looking to heighten attendance numbers this year. He said students should pass through on their way to the game even if they don’t want to spend lots of time at tailgate.
“I always want to see more than 500 people attend,” Wagner said. “I just want to see people go. Even if they just stop by and have a pop or get some free food, I just want students to have fun and be safe and enjoy their time.”
As far as future plans for tailgate, Destin is keeping his lips sealed.
“Man, that’s a secret,” Destin said. “We’ve got some cool stuff coming up. It’s gonna be good.”