A sense of tradition runs strong at the University of Notre Dame. One might think that switching to artificial turf would not be too difficult a decision, but at Notre Dame it seems that such matters are not taken lightly. Nevertheless, in the upcoming season Notre Dame Stadium will have a synthetic playing surface for the first time in its storied history.
It has been estimated that installation of the new turf will be finished by around August 15, so it will be in time for the 2014 season. Notre Dame’s own athletics website mentioned that the majority of bowl subdivision schools in the Northeast and Midwest already have an artificial playing field in some capacity. Notre Dame has never exactly been an institution that follows the crowd. Indeed, it has in many ways been known for its uniqueness. However, being in the majority on this issue might not be such a bad idea.
The 85th annual Blue-Gold Game was a perfect venue for athletic director Jack Swarbrick to talk about artificial turf. After all, it is not as if the field looked particularly fetching during the game. Maybe this was a good public relations move or perhaps it was completely coincidental. In any case, he highlighted multiple reasons why he felt that an artificial playing surface was the way to go.
For one thing, most of the team’s practice time comes on artificial turf. Swarbrick mentioned that it will help preparation for games when the team both practices and plays on the same type of surface. There might be some truth to this, though of course it is hard to actually prove one way or the other. It seems reasonable that the more familiar the players are with the playing surface, the more comfortable they will be on the field.
Another issue is that the stadium is also used for graduation ceremonies. This apparently has caused problems as far as maintaining the grass and getting a decent playing surface by the time the football season starts. By switching to artificial turf, Notre Dame will be able to use the stadium for non-football activities more easily. In addition, the team will be able to practice on the field without worrying about tearing it up.
Sometimes it seems like the sense of tradition can get in the way of practicality. Tradition likely had very little to do with the decision to move to a synthetic playing field. Rather, this decision was probably about ease of maintenance and cost-effectiveness. Clearly, the way the grass was being maintained was not up to par. Swarbrick probably saw a change as being more efficient and cheaper in the long run. His job is to do what is best for the university, not necessarily what is most popular.
Notre Dame’s switch to artificial turf will likely be a positive move. There are plenty of good reasons for the decision. Tradition will always be important at Notre Dame, but perhaps it is time to build on that tradition, rather than maintain the status quo. After all, the school has not won a national championship since 1988. In the end, what matters is what happens on the field, rather than the field itself.
Commentary By Zach Kirkman