by Mike Coffey
Well, we all knew it was coming. And now, according to the South Bend Trib, it’s on the schedule — the natural grass surface at Notre Dame Stadium will be replaced by Field Turf.
Let me make something clear from the get-go: The turf in Notre Dame Stadium is not a hot-button issue for me. Green is green. As long as what is done isn’t tacky and the safety of the players is not endangered, I have little interest in the decision. But the alleged desire for leather helmets here on NDN aside, I believe change at the level this represents bears some scrutiny … scrutiny not only of whether it should be done but, more importantly, why it’s being done.
Change, logic tells us, is dictated by one of two needs: correcting an error, or taking advantage of an improvement. The poor condition of the Stadium field has been an issue these past couple of years, so it’s certainly possible this change will rectify that. Most programs that have installed turf or a variation on it do it for logistical or financial reasons, so while we may see a cost savings, I’m not aware of any improvement in W/L record we can expect as a result. So far, nothing seems to jump out one way or the other, which is why I don’t usually burn a lot of calories on the topic.
But then we have the reason articulated by Brian Kelly in the linked article:
Kelly’s thinking is, when you never get in the stadium for practice, it becomes “almost like the Basilica to the players” and erodes home-field advantage because of the awe factor.
The players are overwhelmed by the Stadium because they can’t practice there? Unlike the dozens of classes of players who have preceded them, this group walks into Notre Dame Stadium, looks at the bricks, and immediately puckers up?
At its most benign, this reasoning is specious. But it’s the one Kelly chooses to toss out there for public consumption as a justification for the change. If there are folks out there leery of this kind of switch, this kind of politicking isn’t going to convince them it’s a good idea, so once again, we have poor salesmanship to those he should be trying to convince.
But more importantly, it’s yet another attempt to connect a major (and expensive) structural change to the physical plant to the mystical “home field advantage”. According to some folks, Notre Dame Stadium isn’t an imposing place to play anymore, and we need to make drastic changes to it so that it will become one. Trouble is, they eschew what could be the easy, less costly, and possibly more effective solutions for the ones that trample tradition and make Notre Dame Stadium just another place to play football.
The crowd doesn’t yell enough or make things difficult for our opponent? Never mind telling the ushers to dial back the “Welcome to Notre Dame” glad-handing, be a little more tolerant of those making noise (while maintaining basic rules of decency), and possibly responding to complaints that people are standing too much with “Too bad”. Instead, let’s pipe in garish, obnoxious pop music like everyone else does, even though it actually helped our biggest rival when we did.
The games are too long, and the crowd gets bored? Never mind reducing the number of commercials or shortening the time between the end of commercials and the start of play .. you know, that time NBC uses to pimp “Dancing With America’s Next Top Housewives” or whatever other reality show is playing during the week. Instead, let’s spend millions of dollars to put up a video screen so the ADD generation doesn’t have to sit still, then let’s spend millions more each year on the upkeep, all without (allegedly) using advertising dollars.
And at the front of the efforts for all this is Brian Kelly. Notre Dame has lost five games a season for five years in a row, and is staring at the possibility of a record six years in a row this season. But instead of taking steps to ensure that record isn’t set, like developing a punt return game or getting plays in before the clock expires, he’s spending time dreaming of and demanding field turf and a screen, like those things are going to make one iota of difference. As someone pointed out on the board, “If you told Brian Kelly you were having trouble with the ladies, he’d tell you to switch your cologne.” If the coach of one of the winningest programs in college football can’t coach a team to a win without major changes to the turf, or recruit a top-flight player successfully without a garish lowest-common-denominator video screen, then maybe, just maybe, the problem is with the coach.
The loudest game I can think of in the past 10 years at Notre Dame Stadium was the Southern Cal game in 2005. There was no field turf. There was no video screen. There was no “Crazy Train”. There was only a one-loss Notre Dame team playing a top-five opponent down to the wire, executing well on the field, and giving the 81,000+ in the stands something to cheer about … which they did, quite loudly. The home field advantage definitely was there that night, and it didn’t cost ND a dime or change what makes Notre Dame Stadium unique.
Funny how that works. Maybe Brian Kelly should be watching that game film instead of perusing the Daktronics catalog.