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Observer: Swarbrick on turf

by Jay ?, San Diego, Friday, December 20, 2013, 10:16

Notre Dame undecided on FieldTurf
By Mike Monaco
Sports Editor

Published: Thursday, December 19, 2013

With the first home football game just more than eight months away, Notre Dame has yet to determine on what surface it will play its games at Notre Dame Stadium.

Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick told The Observer they are still in the process of evaluating their options, and a decision will likely be made in January or February.

One way or another, however, the Irish will play on a completely new surface.

“We will do one of two things,” Swarbrick said. “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.”

Swarbrick said there are still important timing issues to iron out, considering the goal is to hold Commencement inside the Stadium. In addition to the timetable, he said other factors under consideration are cost and athlete safety.

Notre Dame had to re-sod the current field multiple times before and during the past season, and Swarbrick said they will not do that again on the same sub-surface.

If they were to put in a completely new field, Swarbrick said there will be a different set of challenges than the problems that arose from the multiple re-sodding processes. Most notably, if Notre Dame were to completely redo the entire surface, the grass takes “more than a year to really come in,” according to Swarbrick.

“Our soccer stadium is a great example,” he said. “It’s probably as good a pitch, as they say, as there is in the country. The first year, though, the coaches were going to kill me because every time a player cut, the sod came up.

“So it just takes time to get a roots system that’s robust enough to deal with 300-pound guys running around with spikes on. So there are limitations to grass in at least the first year. But that’s okay. That doesn’t necessarily dictate a decision. It would be better than what we played on this year.”

Swarbrick said the other option, a synthetic surface, would likely not be a hybrid of synthetic and natural grass. He said they’ve studied the surface at Lambeau Field, a hybrid surface, and found the cost of maintaining such a field is high. Swarbrick, however, did note nothing is off the table right now.

“I’m just not sure it’s the right use of our resources,” he said. “Because the fundamental difference with hybrid is you can never sod it because it’s got synthetic blades surrounded by real grass. So you couldn’t really lay down a sod. You have to reseed it and so you have to maintain the growing year and to do that, you essentially have to build a greenhouse in your stadium.

“It’s very expensive and it doesn’t feel like the right use of resources for us.”

Swarbrick said the costs of ripping up everything and putting a completely new sod is about the same as installing FieldTurf.

“And if you use our recent experience as a comparison, FieldTurf is a lot cheaper because we kept replacing the sod so often,” he added.

Notre Dame has decided to install FieldTurf at Frank Eck Stadium, home of the baseball team, and inside Loftus Sports Center, Swarbrick said.

The decision to install FieldTurf at Loftus was purely based on player safety, he said.

“That facility gets used so much. It gets used well into the early morning by so many of our student-athletes and then recreationally users, too, and it was just completely worn,” Swarbrick said. “That was a pretty simple one. We have to get this to be better.”

Swarbrick said they had wanted to install the new surface at Frank Eck Stadium because of the weather. Notre Dame’s move to the ACC ramped up the efforts.

“We had some alums step up, people directly connected to the baseball program, which is always nice to see, to help us get that done,” he said. “It’ll make a very big difference for our team.”

Swarbrick said he is very comfortable with the player safety implications of FieldTurf at Frank Eck Stadium. Notre Dame also looked to the University of Texas’s UFCU Disch-Falk Field, which installed FieldTurf in 2008, for an example.

“My perspective really changed when I realized Texas had it,” he said. “That’s not a bad weather environment at Austin. And that was the first time I said to myself, ‘This is really about just giving the athletes a better opportunity.’ Our outfield has been an issue out there in terms of its playability. The issues you worry about in football, you don’t really have in baseball. It’s all positive.”

Assistant Managing Editor Matthew DeFranks contributed to this report.

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