By Jeremy Hoeck
Every Tuesday morning, certain members of the USD athletic department and DakotaDome staff sit down for a management meeting for the upcoming home football game.
This Tuesday, however, that meeting lasted a little longer than usual: Two and a half hours.
And for good reason, considering the dome will host eight football games over a 3-day span this weekend. Along with seven South Dakota high school championship games and Saturday’s USD-SDSU rivalry affair (the first in Vermillion in 10 years), the dome will be a rather busy place.
“You always hear people say ‘it’s all hands on deck,’ but in this case, it really is,” said James Bandy, USD’s senior associate athletic director for internal operations.
High school teams take to the DakotaDome turf for three games on both Thursday and Friday, with times of 11 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Then comes a sellout crowd over 10,000 people for Saturday’s 1 p.m. USD-SDSU kickoff, followed by Saturday night’s all-Sioux Falls high school final.
The combined attendance for the eight games is rather hard to estimate, but with all the planning that goes into hosting that many teams and fans, USD’s gameday staff is simply trying to cover every base.
“It’ll be controlled chaos, if there is such a thing,” Bandy said.
Of the three days, the biggest “logistical nightmare” – as Bandy jokingly put it – is Saturday. By the time the USD-SDSU game finishes at around 4 p.m., the dome staff will have to hurriedly coax people out of the building so officials can prepare for the Class 11AAA championship at 7:30 p.m.
“If you eliminate all the high school stuff, it’s a normal weekend for us,” Bandy said. “But now you’ve got some timing issues, and it can get pretty taxing on our staff.
“We’ll be dealing with more bodies, more cars and more everything than we’re accustomed to,” he added. “We’ve got some old hands here who have done it before, it’s still challenging.”
When it comes to dealing with those extra bodies, the USD ticket staff has already prepared itself for the onslaught of fans, parents and other spectators, according to Chris Kaufman, the coordinator of ticket operations and sales.
“Eight games in three days, yeah, there won’t be much sleep involved,” Kaufman said. “But I’ve typically had as much fun on this weekend as any other during the year.”
In terms of the sheer amount of people expected for the weekend, Kaufman said it rivals only the DAKOTA Farm Show in January – when over 25,000 producers from a 4-state area cycle through the dome doors.
As far as numbers are concerned, Saturday’s USD-SDSU game is not only already a sellout but is expected to exceed the dome capacity of 10,000, Kaufman said. For reference sake, the crowd at the last rivalry game in Vermillion back in 2003 had an attendance of 8,681.
“If more (tickets) become available, we’ll know later and make an announcement,” he said. “We’re looking forward to a full house; probably looking at some sort of modern day record.”
Between the high school championships and the USD-SDSU game, the dome not only expects extra fans, but extra media requests. The USD sports information office said Tuesday that it has been dealing with radio requests for the high school games, while the college game will again feature both radio crews, the TV crew from Midco Sports and other print media representatives.
The extra attention to the Coyote-Jackrabbit matchup is understandable, according to USD head coach Joe Glenn.
“There’s a lot of alums in this state from both schools that enjoy this moment probably as much as the two schools,” Glenn said Tuesday. “It’s a big game in South Dakota; a big game to our team.”
As it is for the Jackrabbits, head coach John Stiegelmeier said Tuesday. He added, though, that the teams are still realizing the magnitude of the Division I rivalry.
“Any in-state rivalry, when approached right, is a huge contest,” Stiegelmeier said. “Our players (on both sides) are still learning that, and I think it’s only going to get better.”
You can follow Jeremy Hoeck on Twitter at twitter.com/jhoeck.