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Football

Swarbrick discusses FieldTurf decision

| Saturday, April 12, 2014

Despite the initial wish to keep natural grass, synthetic FieldTurf will be installed at Notre Dame Stadium, Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick said after Saturday’s Blue-Gold game.

Senior receiver Amir Carlisle, left, lines up against senior cornerback Matthias Farley during the Blue-Gold Game on Saturday. With the announcement that a synthetic playing surface will be installed before the 2014 season, the spring game was the last time the Irish will play on a natural grass field at Notre Dame Stadium.Caroline Genco | The Observer

Senior receiver Amir Carlisle, left, lines up against senior cornerback Matthias Farley during the Blue-Gold Game on Saturday. With the announcement that a synthetic playing surface will be installed before the 2014 season, the spring game marked the last time the Irish will play on a natural grass field at Notre Dame Stadium.

Installation will begin following Commenment Weekend (May 16-18), and the University anticipates the installation process to be completed by Aug. 15, in time for the start of the 2014 football season.

“We were spending a lot of time trying to find a grass answer,” Swarbrick said after the game. “If we could — if we could have figured out a way where we knew with Commencement, with the construction that’s going to go on here for three years, could we get ourselves to a position where we would have a high-quality grass field week in and week out, and we just couldn’t get ourselves there. So it was more process of elimination that caused us to finally say, ‘Ok, we’ve looked at everything. We’ve talked to everybody. Let’s go ahead.’”

Irish head coach Brian Kelly said he also would have preferred to maintain a grass field, but the field conditions with natural grass had become too limiting for the program.

“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, and we want to be able to get out there with our team; we want some safety issues to be not part of the equation, and look, I think everybody is in agreement, if we could get the best surface there in grass, we’d love to have that. We just haven’t been able to get to that.”

The desire to keep grass in the Stadium stemmed largely from a hope to keep a tradition intact, Swarbrick said.

“It’s probably more a personal preference than an athletics department preference,” he said. “I like it. I’m an alum here. It’s part of the dynamic of the place. So I was inclined to say, ‘Can we do it?’ and some of the other iconic stadiums have held on to it — Green Bay, the Rose Bowl. So both those things played a role, but we just couldn’t get ourselves there.”

Although FieldTurf does not have the tradition factor on its side, it offers a lower-maintenance option, in terms of keeping up the field conditions over the course of the season, Swarbrick said. The costs of synthetic versus natural turf are comparable at this point, as well.

“It’s remarkable how similar the process is regardless of which way you’re headed,” Swarbrick said. “We were gonna have to go way down and solve some structural and drainage problems no matter which way we went. So that was a non-factor. While finances didn’t play a lead role here, last year we replaced our turf four times. It gets pretty expensive. It used to be — when I started thinking about this a few years ago — it would cost a little bit more to do FieldTurf, but that’s O.K. The economics were the reverse by the time we got here.”

In addition, synthetic turf may allow Notre Dame to host more non-football events in the Stadium, Swarbrick said.

“It helps a lot,” Swarbrick said. “Hockey’s the one that sort of jumps to mind. There aren’t a ton of Stadium acts anymore in music. But we’ll be able to use it more. And of course that’s the entire focus of the Crossroads project. So it’d be crazy to have the Crossroads project designed to do that and then have the field not be able to do it. We want it used like that. I don’t want anybody to take away from this that there’s some conflict with Commencement in the Stadium. Commencement should be in the Stadium. It’s the right place for it. It’s where we want it to be. But it has a real consequence for the field, and it’s unavoidable.”

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