Swarbrick gives no clear answer of field surface
Matthew DeFranks | Sunday, February 9, 2014
Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick said the University has not selected its playing surface for the upcoming football season.
In an interview with The Observer on Friday, Swarbrick said a decision would be coming soon between switching to artificial turf and reinstalling natural grass at Notre Dame Stadium.
“The calendar will force a decision on us,” Swarbrick said. “Whatever solution we’re implementing, we’re going to have to start the day after commencement. The next day, the bulldozers have to move into the Stadium. And you need bulldozers no matter which way you go.”
If construction begins in mid-May (commencement is May 18), Swarbrick said it would not be completed until about a week before Notre Dame’s home opener against Rice on Aug. 30.
“It will take right up until the season no matter which way we go,” Swarbrick said. “Either way, you’d be a little pressed on time. We’ll get it done.”
If the Irish decide to stick with tradition and its natural grass, Swarbrick said there would be significant construction needed to improve the playing surface.
“As we contemplate this, I keep trying to reinforce the point that if we stay with natural grass, it is not less of a construction project than the turf,” Swarbrick said. “We’re going to have to go down, way down and rebuild this field from bedrock up to get the kind of surface we want if we do grass.”
Swarbrick said the student-athlete experience was the most important factor to consider when making this decision and estimated 80 percent had to do with this topic.
“That involves safety, performance, preference, how all those things work for them,” he said. “The other things are the external factors, how else might we want to use the Stadium and what are the implications of that.”
Swarbrick said he has tried to talk to the football team’s leadership group over the years to gauge their interest in potentially switching. The preferences tended to be position-specific, he said, with backs and receivers favoring the faster FieldTurf and linemen preferring grass.
“You don’t come away with a clear vote,” Swarbrick said.
Notre Dame would also consider what type of team it wanted to play like before choosing an option, Swarbrick said. Irish coach Brian Kelly’s spread offense operated on FieldTurf during his previous stints at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati.
The Irish practice on FieldTurf both at the LaBar Practice Fields and at the Loftus Sports Center but play on the natural grass of Notre Dame Stadium.
“There are some who clearly have a strong preference for consistency. They practice five days a week on synthetic and when they’re indoors, they’re on synthetic. So for some of them, I’m not saying all of them, there would be a preference for consistency among the surfaces.”
Notre Dame played three games (at Michigan Stadium, AT&T Stadium and Falcon Stadium) on FieldTurf last season. The Irish will play two games (at Lucas Oil Stadium and MetLife Stadium) on artificial surfaces in 2014 away from South Bend.
Despite the announcement of the Campus Crossroads Project two weeks ago, Swarbrick said the FieldTurf decision was a separate decision unrelated to it.