South Dakota state football championship games could be moving 115 miles to the chilly north.
With the climate-controlled DakotaDome at the University of South Dakota under renovation, the South Dakota High School Activities Association is considering moving the 2019 state football championship games to South Dakota State University’s Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings, an outdoor facility.
The SDHSAA staff has recommended to the association’s Board of Directors that the championship games be played Nov. 14 and 15 at SDSU’s three-year-old stadium. The board will consider a preliminary agreement during its meeting Wednesday, Feb. 27 in Pierre. Future years of the championship would be considered at a later date.
“Brookings and SDSU are obviously excited about the opportunity and willing to work with us, given our situation in Vermillion and doing a one-year deal,” SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director John Krogstrand said. “This action we are asking the board for here next week would be basically to allow us to bring them a formal agreement and work toward a formal agreement to potentially have the championships in Brookings in 2019 and continue to go forward from there with discussions with our site committee and normal processes.”
USD has hosted the state championship games since the formation of the current playoff system in 1981, but the DakotaDome is being heavily renovated as part of a $26.3 million project to modernize the 40-year-old facility. Dykhouse Stadium, built at a cost of $65 million, is also the home stadium of Brookings High School football. It has artificial turf and a capacity of 19,340.
Bon Homme football coach Byron Pudwill is a past president of the South Dakota Football Coaches Association and serves on the SDHSAA’s Football Advisory Committee. If the state decides on a change to Brookings for this year, Pudwill said he’s OK with the move.
“It’s an amazing football stadium,” said Pudwill, who coached the Class 9AA state champions in 2018. “If it does go that way, I absolutely have no issue with that.”
But Pudwill admitted if it were up to him, he would keep the games at the DakotaDome for the long-term, especially since USD will continue to play its home games there this year.
“To me, my gut reaction is like they say about old dances: to go home with the one that brought you,” Pudwill said. “Vermillion has always been good to us, as high schools, and I hate to flush the baby out with the bathwater.”
In the agenda item for the meeting, the SDHSAA staff said it was made aware of USD’s major renovation plans this past fall. The work will leave the western half of the DakotaDome unusable - which is where the student sections are traditionally located for the state championship games - and reduce the available seating to 5,200 seats.
“As we became aware this October the west side was not going to be available to us in the DakotaDome,” Krogstrand said, “we kind of monitored it through the state championships this last year and took a look at historical numbers and just trying to have a discussion about how to accommodate our large student crowds, especially for the AA and AAA games.”
A majority vote of the SDHSAA board of directors is needed to approve the move to Brookings. The next step would be ironing out details and logistics of the state championships. Currently, the state’s seven title games are played during three days. SDSU is slated to host a home football game on Nov. 16, 2019, meaning the seven high school championship games would be played on Nov. 14-15.
Krogstrand envisions four games being played one day and three the next day, but a concrete schedule will be determined upon approval. If approved, Krogstrand doesn’t anticipate squeezing four games in one day as an issue.
“I think because of the difference in the venue -- parking and everything else -- I think we will have some opportunities to get that four (games) in a day where it just literally logistically wasn’t possible in Vermillion,” Krogstrand said.
The biggest issue could be the weather as cold temps and snowy weather are second nature in South Dakota. But Krogstrand noted how Minnesota plays its quarterfinals outdoors the same weekend as South Dakota plays state title games, while Nebraska plays its finals at Memorial Stadium the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week.
“We are certainly aware of that and I think everybody is sensitive to that,” Krogstrand said about the weather. “... That’s understood that’s one of the risks we take by potentially doing that is South Dakota weather.”
From a football standpoint, Pudwill said there’s no question that the weather can impact the way the state championship games are stylistically played.
“I think it would be easy to be all macho about it and say, ‘We’re going to play our game,’” said Pudwill, who has coached for 18 years as head coach in Bon Homme. “But if it’s 12-below, and there’s 6 inches of snow, it’s certainly going have an impact. … If you’ve got a team that’s all about chucking and ducking, and they’re used to the finesse game, a blizzard or really cold weather can wipe them out.”
SDSU would host the championships at a rate significantly reduced as compared to the contracted amount for the rental of the DakotaDome.
In recent years, the SDHSAA has rented the DakotaDome at a cost of $50,000 annually. The SDHSAA says the approximate price to rent Dykhouse Stadium is yet to be determined, and it would seek additional outside funding options to help cover the costs.
The proposed preliminary agreement calls for the SDHSAA to retain the ticket revenue from the games, while SDSU would retain revenue from food, drink, T-shirt, and program sales. SDSU would also be able to sell suite and premium level tickets, with SDHSAA receiving the original full ticket price and SDSU receiving the overage revenue. (Alcohol, which is made available during Jackrabbit games in the premium seating level, would not be sold on the stadium grounds during the high school championships.) SDSU would also handle the gameday operations, ticketing, facilities, parking, custodial and hospitality services.