June 14, 2002 — The biggest surprise of the 2002 football season for University of Utah fans may come before the ball is even snapped. The shocker for many attending the first game of the year at Rice-Eccles Stadium will be that the new turf installed over the summer is not really grass! In fact, it is a new revolutionary synthetic grass called “FieldTurf.” The surface looks so much like real grass it can fool fans and players alike.
While FieldTurf looks like grass, there is one important difference. It takes absolutely no water to maintain. That’s a big savings for the University and the state of Utah, which is in the middle of a four-year drought. 2.4 million gallons of water were used during the last 12-month period when the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium had a natural grass surface.
The new FieldTurf surface is being installed now, so it will be ready for the Ute’s home opener against Indiana on September 7. The field at Rice-Eccles Stadium had been natural grass before it was paved over for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Games.
Players wear the same shoes on FieldTurf as they do on natural grass. The base carpet is made of polyethylene and polypropylene blend fibers two and a quarter inches long, which looks a lot like the shag carpets popular in homes during the 1960’s and 70’s. Once placed on the surface of a stadium, fine rubber pellets mixed with sand are poured on top, filling the pile about ¾ of the way to the top of the fibers. This “in-fill” provides the cushion players need when they fall or are tackled during a game. “We did a great deal of research and every school we talked to told us we’ll love playing on it,” said Ute coach Ron McBride.
Field Turf is just now gaining popularity with pro and college teams across the country. When deciding which playing surface to install, University athletic personnel visited a number of stadiums around the country. They were most impressed with the FieldTurf surface at Seahawks Stadium where Seattle’s NFL team plays. The Detroit Lions will also play on FieldTurf for the first time this year, which they installed at the new Ford Field domed stadium. Among the other colleges using FieldTurf are Oregon, Kansas State, Washington, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Tulsa.
The installation crew is busy laying the entire playing surface. This involves raking the fibers so they stand erect, then adding the sand and rubber particles. Once in place, the FieldTurf will be much easier to take care of than real grass. “It made sense from a fiscal and maintenance perspective. Maintaining a grass field and striping it is very expensive. In addition, we’ll be able to host so many more events on this surface than one as sensitive as natural grass. We can have motor sports events, concerts, soccer and high school football games in our stadium without damaging the grass.” Mark Burk, the manager of Rice-Eccles Stadium.
FieldTurf is the third surface in Rice-Eccles Stadium’s four-year history. When the stadium opened in 1998, it was lined with SportsGrass, a hybrid of natural grass and artificial turf that the U experimented with from 1995-99. In 2000, natural grass replaced the SportsGrass and was in place until the end of the 2001 season, when it was covered by blacktop for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics.
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