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Official Review by Marcus Traxler, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
At the University of South Dakota, there has been one indoor facility for all of its indoor sports for more than 30 years now. Not only do the football, volleyball, and men’s and women’s basketball teams play inside the DakotaDome, but the swimming and diving teams use the indoor pool on the lower level of the dome, and the Coyotes’ track and field team uses the dome floor for its indoor season. Every athletic office is in the building and the university’s athletic training and sports medicine operations are conducted here.
First constructed in 1979, the DakotaDome is a multi-purpose facility through and through. With that said, its flexibility doesn’t hurt it on a football gameday in Vermillion, S.D. But more often than not, the building is missing the boost for Coyotes (pronounced KI-yotes) games, that would push it forward to become one of the best venues in FCS football.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There's nothing adventurous about the food at the DakotaDome. The soda of choice is Pepsi and bottles go for $2.75 a piece, while the DomeDog is $3.50. Their popcorn is a good buy for $2 per box and candy bars go for $1.50. They have a couple of combo deals that come with soda and a bag of chips that go for $6 for a hot dog or $6.50 for a six-inch sub sandwich.
There's slices of Pizza Hut pizza available for $3.50 or hot beef sandwiches for $3.75. It's standard fare, which isn't really a problem but there could be some more adventurous options.
With the building approaching its 40th birthday, you can see some of the age. The building's roof, which used to be a fabric-like material like what is used at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, ripped multiple times after blizzards in the 1980s before the state helped upgrade the roof in 2001. The concourses are cramped and the bathrooms are limited as well.
I was fortunate to be there for the game against rival South Dakota State in 2013, which was the first meeting in Vermillion in 10 years, after the teams paused the series in their moves to Division I. There was undoubtedly an increase in energy, as students walked around in their "Hate State" shirts and the chants at SDSU players began well before kickoff.
For all of the sports that are played inside the DakotaDome, football suits the building best and that's when the venue has its best chance to come alive.
We rated the neighborhood pretty low in our basketball review, but the one thing that does help the DakotaDome for football is tailgating. USD has a pretty strong tailgating setup inside what is called "Coyote Tailgate Nation." There's a large open area with RVs on the south side of the Dome and it is a good way to get a sense of the gameday atmosphere before heading inside for the game.
There's fast food on the main road through Vermillion on Cherry Street. One place that is worth trying is Raziel's. It's in downtown Vermillion and away from campus, but their beer selection is strong and the steaks are well-recommended.
The intensity or noise created from the fans in the stands in Vermillion is nothing more than average. USD has a distinct advantage in FCS of being one of the few teams that has a dome, which is a great opportunity to use the roof to trap noise and suffocate opposing offenses. That doesn't happen for USD, whose fans only really bring the noise when prompted by the PA announcer in situations like third down.
The Coyotes also have a notorious problem with keeping students at the game into the second half. Regulars to Coyotes football games told me that while hundreds of students - officially dubbed the "Coyote Crazies" - will pile into the wood bleachers for the first half of any home game, most of them leave at halftime, leaving only dozens in the stands for the second half. That might have been a good excuse in 2012, when the Coyotes were an embarrassing 1-10 but USD improved to 4-8 in 2013 and was 3-3 inside the Dome, with all of those losses decided in the final two minutes of the game. USD officials know it's a problem and here's to hoping student and university leaders can get it solved.
If you're driving down from Sioux Falls, you can see the dome's white roof from about 10 miles away on a clear day. The city of 10,000 along the Missouri River, is 60 miles south of Sioux Falls and 40 miles north of Sioux City, Iowa on Interstate 29 (Exit 26). Access to the DakotaDome is easiest to take the State Highway 50 bypass, which will swing right around the north side of campus and the DakotaDome. Parking can be easily found within a few blocks of the stadium for free, if you're willing to walk a little. There are designated free lots near the Dome but they are not clearly marked and can be hard to find when visiting.
Tickets for a standard game are quite reasonable, with adults getting a seat on the east side of the stadium, which has permanent seats, for $18 and youth priced at $9. Homecoming opponents and rivalry games cost more, but the product on the field is entertaining. The Missouri Valley Football Conference added South Dakota for the 2012 season and the Coyotes have taken some time to get acclimated to the very difficult conference. Despite the learning curve, the team is now competitive on a weekly basis, which is good news for Coyotes fans.
The team's mascot, Charlie the Coyote, leads the football team out of the locker room and on the field on a motorcycle. That is pretty awesome to see.
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