A majority of NCAA Division I-A programs now play football on synthetic turf, but natural surfaces still thrive among the nation’s elites.
Every preseason poll regarded Ohio State University as second to none among NCAA Division I-A football programs. Still, the Buckeyes found themselves breaking in a second playing field by the season’s fifth week. Just this short amount of play caused the existing field unplayable and – because of time constraints – irreparable. The lack of ideal playing conditions was disappointing to day the least.
Back in 2006 crews were busy removing Ohio Stadium’s weathered surface, a four-year-old hybrid system of natural grass and synthetic root-zone stabilizers, so that $75,000 worth of new sod could be installed for the Buckeyes’ next home game. It was the first time in the 16-year stretch that Ohio State has been playing on natural grass that a field required mid-season replacement. And for the first time in a long time, university administrators began taking a second look at synthetic turf as a viable surfacing option.
Today, the reemergence of synthetic turf – in the form of infill systems, specifically – has effectively uprooted any hope among purists of a natural grass monopoly, at least in the near future. In fact, synthetic-turf installations recently took place at Alabama-Birmingham, Arkansas State, Colorado State, Louisiana Tech and Wake Forest have swung the Division I-A majority in favor of synthetics – and not by a thin margin, either. Sixty-two teams now tee it up with polyethylene and crumb rubber underfoot, while 57 schools still prefer to grind it out on grass.
Ohio State is hardly alone in making the commitment – for now, anyway – to natural grass, particularly among the nation’s elite football programs. Of the 65 schools competing as members of the six Bowl Championship Series conferences, 40 still favor grass on their game fields. Moreover, 18 schools in the Associated Press preseason top 25 ranking – including eight among the top 10 – play on grass.
But the BCS schools are putting more money and knowledge into their athletic fields than the other schools, so they’re able to maintain that natural turf at a higher level. I think part of the problem facing natural grass in this country is a lack of budget dollars and a lack of knowledge about how to take care of it. You need both. You need some money and you need some expertise. Otherwise synthetic turf is a no-brainer for schools to save time and lots of money.