SOUTH BEND – One look at the half-grass, half-dirt field at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday once again brought up the debate in the press box regarding field turf.
It turns out, that addition had already been finalized.
Notre Dame announced during the Blue-Gold Game on Saturday that it will be installing FieldTurf that will be ready for the season opener against Rice on August 30. The plan is to begin the transformation following Commencement Weekend on May 16-18 in which graduation ceremonies are held in the stadium.
A completion date of August 15 is anticipated.
“We had a strong predisposition to stay with a natural grass field,” said Notre Dame vice president and director of athletics Jack Swarbrick in a release. “However, the reality is that in two of the last three seasons since we moved commencement to the stadium we have been unable to produce an acceptable playing surface.
“That, combined with the likely impacts of future construction at the stadium, led me to conclude that we would continue to struggle to maintain a grass field that meets the expectations of our student-athletes and fans as it relates to appearance, performance and safety.”
Coach Brian Kelly, who has long been a proponent of artificial turf in Notre Dame Stadium, was supportive of the decision after the game.
“It's really about getting a surface where there is some consistency week in and week out for our players,” Kelly said. “Today was an indication (that) we can't even practice out there.
“We want to be able to get out there with our team. We want some safety issues to not be a part of the equation.”
FieldTurf is already in use on two of the three football fields at the LaBar Practice Complex and within the Loftus Sports Center used by the Notre Dame football program.
The third field at the LaBar Practice Complex is natural grass to simulate the current field within Notre Dame Stadium.
Swarbrick spoke Saturday on the possibilities of other events within Notre Dame Stadium once the FieldTurf is installed, including outdoor hockey games and concerts.
But for Kelly, his primary concern has been his football team.
“If we could get the best surface here in grass, we'd love to do that,” Kelly said. “We just haven't been able to get to that. This is my fifth year at Notre Dame and we haven't been able to get to that.
“This is the best option available to us and I'm happy (Swarbrick) … has acted and we have that playing field in place for the fall.”
Swarbrick said on Saturday he decided on FieldTurf in February, but had to convince the University to be on board.
Of the 47 NCAA FBS programs in the Midwest and Northeast, 36 have some form of artificial turf, including all 13 MAC schools and 10 of 14 Big 10 schools.
The lone holdouts in the Big 10 are Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin.