With a new, sturdier field beneath football players’ feet, Michigan Athletic Department officials say the Big House will be safer when the Wolverines open their season against Central Michigan on Aug. 30.

The athletic department has decided that FieldTurf, the same surface that the team practices on at Oosterbaan Fieldhouse, is the best choice to replace the current natural grass surface at Michigan Stadium.

Michigan Associate Athletic Director Mike Stevenson said a committee chose FieldTurf over Prestige Monday, and they received permission from the University purchasing department to finalize the decision yesterday afternoon.

“It’s a proven product that has been on the market, and the people who have it have been satisfied with it,” Stevenson said.

The FieldTurf, which is advertised to “look, feel and play” like grass, won’t be the only new site for fans at The Big House. Stevenson said there will be a large, block ‘M’ at midfield to accompany the traditional Michigan endzones.

“We want the millions of people who watch Michigan football seeing that mark (the block ‘M’),” Stevenson said. “If it’s not the most famous mark in collegiate sports, it’s one of two or three.”

There are 17 NCAA Division I schools who use FieldTurf, including the University of Nebraska and the University of Washington. Twelve NFL teams use FieldTurf as well, as the surface is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to natural grass.

“The only thing that is important is that it’s the best,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “We got the best field.”

Stevenson and Associate Athletic Director Scott Draper were in charge of the process, which began after the Big House field became an embarrassment during a home game Oct. 12 against Penn State. Players from both teams said that they were not comfortable playing on the surface, and one player said that the divots in the field were “more like potholes.”

Draper and Stevenson met with nine companies soon after the season’s end, and dwindled down the list to FieldTurf and Prestige. Draper and Stevenson went to Nebraska to look at the FieldTurf and the University of Iowa to check out the Prestige surface.

After evaluating all the options, they felt that FieldTurf, which uses a combination of sand and rubber to hold the polyethylene blades of grass in place, was the best option over Prestige, which uses a chrome rubber mat.

Stevenson said the University Board of Regents gave the department a spending limit of $850,000 for the turf.

The athletic department and FieldTurf settled on a sum of about $650,000, which was the most expensive option that they considered at the end. The amount includes the removal of the current surface and the installation of the FieldTurf.

The installation process is expected to begin Monday, April 28, the day after graduation at The Big House, and Stevenson hopes that the new surface will be ready by Saturday, June 14 for the University’s Women’s Football Academy that benefits the Coach Carr Cancer Fund.

Stevenson said the natural grass that will be removed from the Big House will be a big help for the fundraising projects for new baseball and softball facilities. The athletic department plans to stockpile the grass behind the Varsity Tennis Center and use it for the outfield of the new facilities when they are built, he said.

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