Even with its rich tradition and sparkling reputation, the “Big House” isn’t perfect.
Or at least the grass on the playing surface isn’t.
The field conditions are such a big problem that Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin said he plans to replace the grass with another surface such as artificial FieldTurf by the start of the 2003 season. Martin said finding a way to fix the field problem is “on the top of his list of priorities.”
The field “was not acceptable,” Martin said. “Period.”
Several Wolverines agreed that the grass has to go.
“It was terrible (on Saturday),” said senior B.J. Askew, who felt the grass is the worst it’s been since he came to Michigan. “The divots seemed like potholes.”
After two weeks of inactivity and great weather, the field looked more like a torn up battlefield than a home-field advantage for the Wolverines. Coach Lloyd Carr, along with several players complained of poor footing and drudging through the numerous divots while playing the Nittany Lions on Saturday.
The current Prescription Athletic Turf was placed in Michigan Stadium in 1991, and last re-sodded in the spring of 1999. But associate athletic Director Mike Stevenson said it has gotten progressively worse this season. He said due to heavy rain and hot weather, the roots for the turf have shortened from six inches in August to three-quarters of an inch deep. Stevenson said Michigan has utilized the expertise of agronomist experts from Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State over the past few years, and has come to the conclusion that a change is needed.
“You have to have a proper field to play on,” Martin said. “Players can slip or get injured, and that shouldn’t happen.”
Carr, one of the loudest critics of the grass, said that it wasn’t that the Michigan maintenance workers or agronomists weren’t doing their job, it’s just that the stadium’s placement close to the water level makes it much more difficult to grow grass effectively.
Martin could choose to replace the grass at Michigan Stadium with the same FieldTurf used in Michigan’s indoor practice facility, Oosterbaan Fieldhouse. That turf was installed in just a week, Martin said.
The same company that furnished that surface, Montreal-based FieldTurf, feels they are a viable option. Mike Gruppe, director of sales and marketing for Quest Turf – which handles FieldTurf’s marketing in six states – said a typical project for a college football stadium has cost anywhere between $700,000 to $900,000. Other than Oosterbaan, FieldTurf can be found at Nebraska, Oregon, Washington, Maryland and Illinois – as well as the Detroit Lions’ Ford Field.
Martin said he considers FieldTurf a “wonderful” product, but he said Michigan is considering many turf options.
“There are many new, innovative surfaces on the market today and our job will be to work with Lloyd to make sure we have the surface we feel is best for our student-athletes,” Stevenson said. “Let’s face it, we tried to make natural turf work, and we couldn’t do it.”