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FieldTurf announcement comes at the right time

Apr 13, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT

Last Grass

During the first half of the Blue-Gold game, athletic director Jack Swarbrick joined Alex Flanagan on television to break the game’s biggest news. After years of struggling to maintain the natural grass surface inside Notre Dame Stadium, the university will be installing a synthetic surface inside the stadium.

The handling of the news was noteworthy. With a press corps watching the game from the press box, the university shared the news with their fans on television first, a group far more surprised than the media, who all but knew the decision was more a matter of when, not if.

The grass will come up in the stadium right after commencement in May, with the new surface hopefully ready by mid-August. While Swarbrick hit the standard talking points with Flanagan on the air, the official release provided more of the rationale behind the decision.

“We had a strong predisposition to stay with a natural grass field,” Swarbrick said in the statement. “However, the reality is that in two of the last three seasons since we moved Commencement to the Stadium we have been unable to produce an acceptable playing surface. That, combined with the likely impacts of future construction at the Stadium, led me to conclude that we would continue to struggle to maintain a grass field that meets the expectations of our student-athletes and fans as it relates to appearance, performance and safety.

“Synthetic turf will assist our game preparation because our team will be able to play and practice on the same surface. We will also be able to utilize the Notre Dame Stadium field for practices on home football Fridays and other occasions, whereas that is currently unrealistic. Additionally, this change allows us to eliminate the risk to players posed by the asphalt perimeter that has to be maintained around our current field.”

Brian Kelly talked about the decision after the game, echoing Swarbrick’s sentiments, and actually surprised that the question wasn’t the first one he fielded.

“I think you look at the conditions of the field today, going out there and it’s really about getting a surface where there’s some consistency week‑in and week‑out for our players,” Kelly said. “I think today was an indication. We can’t even practice out there.

“We want to be able to get out there with our team. We want some safety issues to be not part of the equation. I think everybody is in agreement. If we can get the best surface there in grass, we’d love to have that. We just haven’t been able to get to that. This is my fifth year here at Notre Dame and we haven’t been able to get to that.”

While some bristled at the handling of the news, this isn’t the first time Swarbrick mentioned that the decision was being weighed. When Notre Dame’s expansion to the stadium via the Campus Crossroads project was announced, Swarbrick acknowledged that the university was weighing their options of retaining natural grass or putting in a synthetic surface.

After researching many of the successful natural surfaces that are maintained in northern climates (there aren’t many, over three-quarters of the NCAA FBS programs in the Midwest and Northeast utilize an artifical surface, including 10 of the 14 Big Ten teams), Swarbrick knew extensive structural changes were needed inside the stadium.

We will do one of two things,” Swarbrick told The Observer in December. “We will either go in and really rip the whole thing out, I mean, go way down and create a whole new sub-surface, and everything about the field will be re-done, drainage, sub-surface. Or we’ll go to synthetic.”

Multiple times, Swarbrick has mentioned the significant cost savings associated with bringing in a synthetic surface. And while some fans bristle at money being a factor when the university sets forth on a $400 million dollar initiative, there’s no proof that a hybrid natural surface would work throughout the renovation process, as the grass would need constant monitoring and growth year round, necessitating the addition out of a greenhouse apparatus.

Those explanations surely aren’t enough to calm a certain subset of the fanbase, who expects tradition to be upheld with natural grass (and no videoboard, luxury suites or ticket price hikes.) But junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell all but spoke for the players after the game.

“You see how terrible it was out there? Come on now,” Russell told the Chicago Tribune. “When we played USC last year that field was terrible. So I’m excited.”

  1. dickasman - Apr 13, 2014 at 7:23 PM

    Saline or Silicone?

  2. North of Denver - Apr 13, 2014 at 7:54 PM

    Was Swarbrick saying that having commencement at the field was the cause of the fields poor shape?

    • dickasman - Apr 13, 2014 at 8:09 PM

      I think he was saying “rip it, dig in deep down, tear it up oh yeah baby right there yeah deeper…”

  3. mediocrebob - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:22 PM

    Tradition is winning. If the players are happier, people should be happy.

    I’d rather have grass but if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I’m sure those that don’t want this or jumbotrons also don’t have smartphones and only use pay phones still right?

    • dickasman - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:22 PM

      I agree not real anal about it. I’m not sure what is better I ain’t no grass expert. Cocaine is different story. Also, it ain’t my knees.

    • dickasman - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:28 PM

      I would however like a jumbo tron. Retractable roof, even better!

    • 1historian - Apr 14, 2014 at 11:09 AM

      Bottom line – tradition is winning – well said.

      I’d rather see the natural grass but if the guys who actually have to play on it think it’s a good idea then my objections are irrelevant. In light of the coming expansion it was inevitable. How long ago was the actual decision made? I would wager weeks, maybe even months ago.

      Timing of the announcement – good.

      Jumbotrons – a bad idea yesterday, a bad idea today, a bad idea tomorrow.

      Smartphones – I have a tracfone and I pay about $110 per year on it – $25 for a new machine and $85 or so for more minutes – right now I have 1200 minutes on it and that will do me for the next millenium or so. I have no need for anything else. Life was good before the invention of these gadgets, it is now and it will continue to be so, gadgets or not. I can remember life before ATM cards, cell phones, compact discs, etc. I remember Joe Kuharich, Ara, Moose Krause, Jake (99) Kline, and I sat next to Mike McCoy in sophomore year philosophy class. (He was one of the biggest philosophers I’ve ever met.)

      FYI – I am an old coot and grateful to be so. You seem to be a bit of a young whippersnapper, just remember that we old coots were here first.

      The last game I saw at the stadium was October 1989 when N.D. beat Pitt I think the score was 45-7.

      I’ll miss that one game a year played in the rain or the snow when after the game the players look like warriors with mud and blood on their uniforms.

      • mediocrebob - Apr 14, 2014 at 1:29 PM

        I have to say that I agree a bout jumbotrons but the bottom line is that you and I aren’t being recruited to play football there. Younger guys like the new technology. The cell phone reference was just an example. I thank you and all of ndnation that came before me. I also realize that my opinion really carries no weight. All it is is an opinion and we all have those. But like we both seem to agree, if the Irish are winning, I don’t care if they’re playing in the parking lot. Just win baby!!

        Go Irish. Beat everyone.

      • ndfenian - Apr 14, 2014 at 2:59 PM

        1historian, not to be too personal, but why haven’t you been to a game since Rocket ran reverses for the team? Long time ago boss. Mediocrebob, I agree with your win baby sentiment but I don’t like the argument that we need a jumbotron to recruit players. Winning recruits players. Winning 12 games convinced Greg Bryant to come. The only way a traditionalist like me can be wooed to the jumbotron is if you can convince me the place will be much louder with it. I’m tired of ND stadium being less loud and obnoxious than my Jesuit all boys high school.

      • mediocrebob - Apr 14, 2014 at 5:34 PM

        I didn’t necessarily mean jumbotron brings the recruits. Notre dame in a lot of ways recruits itself. Again that was just an example. The point I was trying to get across is that it shouldn’t really matter about things like that. If the Irish are winning, I don’t care what the stadium looks like.

      • mediocrebob - Apr 14, 2014 at 7:00 PM

        And I couldn’t agree more about ND stadium needing to be louder.

      • ndfenian - Apr 14, 2014 at 9:26 PM

        I see what you’re saying Bob. They should put together a statistical analysis of how the stadium can be louder with jumbotron, like they did with the piped in music. If there is really a strong correlation AND the jumbo can blend in with our classic mystique, then do it. I just know that other college stadiums are much louder. I went to Oklahoma game in Norman in 12′ and that place was nuts.

  4. ryantbury - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:42 PM

    Hopefully they’ll leave the field painted like it always has been and not paint the endzones or an emblem on the 50

    • dickasman - Apr 14, 2014 at 1:37 AM

      I’d love to snort the entire 50 yd line.

    • domerboyirish - Apr 14, 2014 at 8:50 AM

      My thoughts exactly. I have no issues with changing to field turf for all of the reasons Jack stated but when we kick off against Rice the field better looks the same. I don’t want to see the logo at mid field or any kind of advertisement around the 30. Maintain the same look and I’m good with it.

  5. Barry's Triceps - Apr 14, 2014 at 2:54 AM

    This is an Obama-nation.

    See what I did there?

    On a serious note, Notre Dame should be the school still playing on natural grass 250 years from now. Hell, with as many high schools playing on artificial now eventually it could become a real advantage.

    Why dont they just build a great auditorium for commencement? You telling me Notre Dame doesn’t have the donors?

    • blackirish23 - Apr 14, 2014 at 11:01 AM

      Have you ever been to a graduation at Notre Dame? Why don’t you look at your entire family and decide which two people most deserve to watch you receive your degree from The University of Notre Dame.

      The stadium holds 80, 795 people. The largest indoor venue at ND holds 9,148 people. Do the math.

      If we had an indoor team deserving of a 30,000 seating capacity, I’d say go for it, but the last thing you want is a half empty arena during games for the sole purpose of a packed house during graduation. That’s like a Walmart parking lot during the entire year save for Black Friday. Poor planning.

      Best solution is a new surface for a field that will now be used for multiple occasions and ties into the university’s mission of making the stadium a center of academic life and athletic life.

      Go Irish!!

  6. yogihilt - Apr 14, 2014 at 7:28 AM

    A great field turf is certainly much better than what they’ve been playing on. But I hope expenses go into a ‘great’ product.

    • 1historian - Apr 14, 2014 at 6:54 PM

      I would expect them to pay big bucks for it and that’s fine with me – do it ONCE and do it RIGHT.

  7. domerboyirish - Apr 14, 2014 at 8:57 AM

    I didn’t get to see the game so I missed the formal announcement. Was there any word on whether the field will be heated? It isn’t cheap but it seems like a no brainer to do. If we are doing this with player safety in mind, an icy field for a late November / early freeze is a problem.

    Plus, look what happened in Minnesota a few years ago when the Vikings were forced to move outside for a game or two because of issues with the dome. There was a concern that the U of Minnesota’s field was not heated for their relocated games. If we have a heated field, we could attract other venues when needed. If a team like the Bears and their crap field conditions need to move a game, a nice 80,000 seat stadium with heated field turf is an easy choice.

  8. alsatiannd - Apr 14, 2014 at 10:08 AM

    The field looked terrible for the Blue/Gold Game ’14. It looked fine for the Blue/Gold Game ’13. It looked terrible this year because they decided months ago to replace the grass with field turf because why maintain something you’re going to rip out soon. This is a cost cutting measure, nothing more. It hasn’t gotten harder to maintain grass all of a sudden after 80 years. They just don’t want to pay for it anymore.

    They’re going to need to take some of those savings to buy a giant tent for commencement. Without some sort of shade, grads are going to broil after an hour on sunny field turf.

    • bernhtp - Apr 14, 2014 at 11:40 AM

      Even had they decided to stay with grass, the entire field would be ripped up and excavated several feet down, so the longevity of the current field was never at issue. I do think that leaving it in its awful state made for the perfect announcement backdrop, Swarbrick had the best prop imaginable, one that was inarguable even by the most ardent traditionalist because nobody wants anything resembling what he was standing next to.

      My guess is that there was a pretty strong bias for FieldTurf going into the study phase and ultimately the decision. Kelly was certainly lobbying for it, and FieldTurf’s ability to be used for many more events is consistent with the direction of the stadium upgrade.

  9. cpfirish - Apr 14, 2014 at 2:48 PM

    It would be nice if they added a ND LOGO at mid field. And painted the end zones.

    • ndfenian - Apr 14, 2014 at 6:01 PM

      Nah, they’ve got to keep the field and end zone the same, which is classic.

      • ndfenian - Apr 14, 2014 at 6:02 PM

        it’s like the jerseys. Keep them the classic navy blue and gold. I’m ok with some fancy stuff for the Shamrock Series… as long as their helmets don’t look like golf balls… but even ND-haters admit that our standard jerseys are classic.

  10. 1historian - Apr 14, 2014 at 6:51 PM

    NDfenian;

    I haven’t been to a game in 25 years because

    1) I am an old coot and don’t feel like paying the money it would take to get a ticket – if I could even get one. (I don’t contribute to ND so my chances of getting a ticket are just about nil).

    2) The total cost of the trip from here to there along with the ticket and the stuff I would buy while there is around 1K. I could do it but I just don’t want to,.

    3) I would drink a lot of beer which means that I would have to go pee frequently and would miss a lot of the action.

    4) I would probably get arrested for leering at the cheerleaders or committing some other politically unacceptable offense – I don’t keep track of them anymore.

    I appreciate your concern but I’m quite happy sitting here in the easy chair in the living room quaffing brewskis and waiting for time-outs to go outside and pee, which is a luxury unavailable at the game.

    OMT – Bob – your statement “Notre Dame recruits itself.” Well said.

    Afn&tt

    • ndfenian - Apr 14, 2014 at 9:31 PM

      Historian, I love it! I notice myself being politically unacceptable at games too. At the Michigan State game after seeing so many terrible kick coverage efforts, I actually yelled “kill him!” the next time the spartan returner started running. I realized then I needed to sit the next few out lol.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 15, 2014 at 9:39 AM

      there’s nothing like peeing outside. and just think of all the water you’re conserving by not flushing the toilet 12 times during a game! it really is the “Green” way to go.

  11. 1historian - Apr 14, 2014 at 7:19 PM

    If they don’t sell 1′ squares of the old turf when they start tearing it up I miss my guess – a gold mine if there ever was one.

    120 yards = 360 1′ pieces, multiplied by 159′ – width = 57,240 pieces.

    @ $50 per = $2,862,000. And that’s just the actual playing surface.

    Expenses? A hard plastic container with a nice glitzy certificate of authenticity, the actual work of doing it and some etcetera thrown in.

    Any takers?

    • papadec - Apr 14, 2014 at 9:28 PM

      They’re still selling old bench slabs & bricks from something or other – so why not?

  12. rocket1988 - Apr 14, 2014 at 10:03 PM

    Living two hrs away from ND I can tell you if we have another winter like this past one there will never be any good looking grass on that field. Anyone at the game Saturday heard PA Announcer Mike Collins say that ND went 6 months between 70 degree days! My hope is that ND puts in the same field as Nebraska has. They use cork instead of ground rubber over the base layer. It’s 15-20 degrees cooler in the heat and more environmentally sustainable. Savvy Jack won’t pimp out the field. It’ll look like it has for almost 75 years.

  13. cpfirish - Apr 15, 2014 at 8:33 AM

    Just heard they will have an ND logo at midfield it will be blue and gold, end zones are still undecided.

  14. jef02282001 - Apr 24, 2014 at 11:10 PM

    Have been an Irish and football fan for over 40 years. Do not the “House that Rockne Built going turf. Bet he is turning over in his grave.

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