FieldTurf coming this season to Notre Dame Stadium

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — It didn’t take long for conspiracy theorists to kick into high alert following Saturday’s announcement that FieldTurf will replace natural grass at Notre Dame Stadium.

Among the early email reactions that Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick received late Saturday afternoon was a suggestion that the poor condition of the natural grass for Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game was a ploy to reinforce the decision.

“That’s not true,” said Swarbrick, who pointed out that reaction has been generally positive. “That’s as good as we could get that field to look today.”

The next time the Irish play in the historic stadium — Aug. 30 against Rice in the 2014 season opener — it will be on a synthetic surface, one void of splotches of dead grass and in some cases, essentially painted dirt.

Installation of FieldTurf is scheduled to begin following the university’s May 18 commencement — which is held inside the stadium — and is set to conclude Aug. 15.

Saturday’s announcement, which was made early in the first quarter of the Blue-Gold Game, came with mixed emotions from Swarbrick, a 1976 Notre Dame graduate.

“It may be harder as an alum,” Swarbrick said. “My strong predisposition was to try to stay with grass. If I weren’t inclined that way, we would have made the change two years ago, but I was looking for a way to see if we could still do it.

“I reached the conclusion between the end of last season and this that we really couldn’t. Especially with the


construction that’s going to be going on here, we need to make the change now.”

That construction will be the university’s $400 million Campus Crossroads project announced in January that includes expanding Notre Dame Stadium.

Saturday’s announcement was met with open arms by those who will be most affected by it — the current Irish coaches and players.

“I think you look at the conditions of the field today, going out there, and it’s really about getting a surface where there’s some consistency week-in and week-out for our players. I think today was an indication, we can’t even practice out there,” said head coach Brian Kelly. “We want to be able to get out there with our team, we want some safety issues to be not part of the equation.

“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 Irish likely spend more time practicing on FieldTurf than natural surfaces. Notre Dame’s indoor facility — the Loftus Center — has FieldTurf. So do two of the team’s three outdoor practice fields.

Soon, so will the surface they play six home games each fall.

“You better believe we’re excited about getting some turf in,” senior running back Cam McDaniel said.

Swarbrick said the decision was made late this winter to move forward with FieldTurf.

“From late February until now, I was going through the process of talking to others and leadership of the university and telling them, ‘Here’s where I’m headed,’” Swarbrick said.

Did Swarbrick have to sell the idea across campus?

“No, no,” he said. “They give me great berth to make these decisions, but you want to bring them along and explain why and talk about the timing, so that’s what I was engaged in.”

What Swarbrick won’t be engaged in in the future are attempts at trying to make the grass look good. Notre Dame Stadium was resodded four times in 2013 — after commencement in the spring, in July and twice during the regular season.

“It gets pretty expensive,” Swarbrick said.

Other questions about Saturday’s announcement included whether there will be logos or markings on the new surface.

“Because we had to focus on the surface we haven’t talked about design,” Swarbrick said. “I wouldn’t expect to see major changes.”

Swarbrick also was asked if the change would help in hosting outdoor hockey or concerts.

“It helps a lot,” he said. “Hockey is 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.”

How about the color of the soon-to-be-installed surface? Boise State plays on blue FieldTurf. Eastern Washington’s FieldTurf playing surface is red.

“It will be a green field,” Swarbrick said. “I promise.”

Notre Dame announces the natural grass will be replaced by field turf on Saturday, April 12, 2014, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)