South Dakota State has made the national basketball map with its entry into the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, drawing attention to a state that rarely finds itself on the national sports scene.
A large part of the Jackrabbits’ success can be attributed to their strong play at Frost Arena, the Jacks’ home court since 1973. SDSU finished the season 14-0 in Brookings in 2011-12 and drew the most fans per game in nearly a decade. The truth is that SDSU has had a hard time getting fans inside the doors since moving to Division I eight years ago. The transition was especially tough on the Jackrabbits, who had six and eight win seasons before 19 wins in 2010-11 and 27 in 2012 to reach the NCAA Tournament.
With the winning, the 6,500 seat venue has quickly become one of the toughest places to win in the Summit League.
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South Dakota State is a land-grant institution and one that takes pride in that fact. The Dairy Bar on campus produces ice cream on campus and is the birthplace of the cookies and creme flavor. They sell ice cream cones for $3.50 and they are delicious.
The rest of the concession fare is pretty standard with Papa John's pizza also an option. Prices aren't awful with pretzel at $2.50, popcorn for $4 and a souvenir soda for $4.50. SDSU could certainly step this area up with some sort of sandwiches or at least have the hot dogs made on campus. They've had the Meat Lab's wieners before for football games and they are quite good.
SDSU has a pretty solid vibe in the arena, with the seats being very close to the court, creating a very loud environment at times. There is not a lot of room on the baseline for the cheerleaders but that means the first few rows behind the basket are very close to the action. The arena has one row of courtside seats for season-ticket holders too.
In the early 1990s, the arena went to more chairback seating, replacing the bleachers that made up the capacity that regularly crossed the 8,500 mark for in-state rivals South Dakota and Augustana. Now, all lower bowl seating except the student section is made up of blue chairback seating and sold mostly as season tickets.
The north end of the building is chairback seating to the rafters, while the upper level of the other three sides remains as original wooden bleachers. There is an indoor track on the upper level that is covered when the bleachers are pulled out and that disrupts some of the viewing angles in the building, depending on where you sit. Some chairback seats on the ends of the arena don't angle towards the court, making them tough for basketball. Unless you know your seat is between the free throw lines, save the money and buy a general admission ticket if you can handle sitting on the bleachers for a few hours.
The place can become simply electric when the Jacks are playing well or when a big-time rival like South Dakota or North Dakota State is in the place. The pep band is good, but repetitive if you are a Jackrabbits regular.
On campus, Frost Arena is situated between the Jacks' football home, Coughlin-Alumni Stadium, the University Student Union and a few residence halls. It's not particularly lively before a game but you can pick up Jackrabbit gear in the nearby Union. Closer to the interstate, you'll find a lot of franchises, but the good bars and restaurants are down on Main Avenue, just a few blocks southwest of campus.
A typical hangout for Jackrabbit faithful before and after the game is Cubby's. With plenty of television screens on the walls and Jackrabbits memorabilia as well, SDSU fans tend to congregate there for games both home and away. They have a wide array of burgers and sandwiches and plenty of beers on tap, but one of my favorites is the BBQ Pulled Pork Nachos. It's a big serving that's worth sharing, and it leaves little to be desired.
A lot of SDSU alumni come back to Brookings and a stop at Nick's seems to be mandatory. The little diner on the corner of 5th and Main Avenue is known for its slider-style hamburgers and the homemade pie. Their slogan is "Buy 'em by the Bag," so have as many as you please. It's a classic way to harken back to simpler times as the restaurant draws back to its 1929 roots.
In the two blocks between Cubby's and Nick's, there are the typical college town bars including Ray's Corner, The Ram, and Skinners. Underrated is Sully's Irish Pub, which has great food and a solid beer selection as well.
South Dakota State basketball is much better than they were just a few years ago and the students have responded with a much more energetic turnout. The student section is full and loves to razz the opposing coaches and players but the section lacks creativity and ingenuity. There are occasions where the fans will sit on their hands when things aren't going well. However, when the arena gets loud, it is among the toughest places to play at in the Midwest, mainly because students are about eight feet from the visitors' bench.
Frost Arena is about a half-mile from Interstate 29 and is pretty easy to reach from either of the two exits in Brookings. The closest lots to the arena are reserved for season-ticket holders but there's not much of a difference between those and the other lots nearby, all of which are free for SDSU athletic events. There are also bathrooms on both levels and the wait is never long.
Chairback seats are $25 and general admission (which makes up about half of the arena) are $20 at Frost Arena. Kids are $5, and SDSU students get in for free with their ID. The Summit League offers pretty good basketball and has improved each year SDSU has been in the league. The Jackrabbits try to schedule as many Saturday doubleheaders with the both the men's and women's teams. With the women's squad qualifying for the NCAAs for the fourth straight year in 2012, the experience has turned out to be a pretty solid way to spend a Saturday night in South Dakota.
The city of Brookings is the home to one of the world's premier scoreboard manufacturers, Daktronics, and SDSU benefits from that, with the founder being an alum of the engineering program. The scorer's table at mid-court flashes with advertisements and statistics during timeouts. Frost Arena also has a newer ProStar four-sided scoreboard in the center of the court that will show replays and two ProAd boards near the top of the arena on the baselines, that rotate ads, stats and will show the shot charts of the Jackrabbits' shooters. Two points for the top-of-the line scoreboards.
One point for having an original mascot like the Jackrabbit. Hard not to like that. The actual mascot is pretty personable with the kids in the arena, too.
The Summit League has its share of bad venues and with all things considered, Frost Arena is among the conference's best. Improvements can be made to the in-game experience but almost every seat is a good one and the Jackrabbits play an exciting brand of basketball.
**Photos credited to The SDSU Collegian.
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307 Main Ave
Brookings, SD 57006
421 Main Ave
Brookings, SD 57006
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