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  • Trans-Terp-ency

    by Mike Coffey

    Just when we thought we were out of conference re-alignment, the B1G once again attempts to pull us back in.

    Yesterday, the University of Maryland announced their move to the Formerly-Known-As-Integer conference. While the reasoning behind this move is no secret, it seems the deliberative process behind the move was much more so. And it is in that secrecy I believe the lesson for Notre Dame can be found.

    More than a few Terp alums and fans were blindsided by this, even as the rumors began to leak out last Friday. They feel the move makes them look desperate, and that’s the last feeling alums and fans want to have about their school, the truth of the matter notwithstanding.

    Of special note is the reaction of Tom McMillen, UMD basketball star and Board of Regents member. McMillen, while realizing the necessity of the move, was not a big fan of the process that got them there:

    “When there is no time for deliberation, when commissioners flush with dollars from their conference are dictating to college presidents — when student-athletes and coaches aren’t even brought into the conversation and traditions are thrown away like dirty laundry — there is a recipe for something all right,” [McMillen] said. “In my view, how this was handled will have long-term detrimental effects on college sports.

    “I’m not saying we shouldn’t do this. I’m saying they wanted us two years ago. They will want us in two more years. To totally disregard the athletes and have this crammed down everyone’s throat over a weekend is just awful.

    “This is the kind of thing that can be the tipping point for uncompensated athletes in money-making sports, who are left without any say and are basically becoming indentured servants to big schools.”

    We talk about transparency a lot on NDNation. Contrary to popular belief, transparency, in the context we discuss it, is not about school administrators getting the “permission” of alumni and other stakeholders to make certain decisions. Rather, it is appropriate inclusion in the decision process and, more importantly, a straightforward discussion of the issues and solutions at hand. As McMillen said, deliberation without “cramming”.

    So what should Notre Dame learn from our Turtle friends? I’m going to forego the obvious comparison to discussions lately and go with something that has garnered more attention these last couple of days — artificial turf.

    Let’s establish some basics before we chat. I’m not in favor of artificial turf, but I don’t consider it a go-to-the-mattresses kind of thing. I’m still not convinced a heavily-synthetic playing surface is best for ND’s football players, especially on the injury front. There’s a reason NFL players, when polled, tend to prefer well-maintained grass surfaces over synthetic fields. But stadia at all levels have installed, uninstalled, and reinstalled turf-based systems for years. This isn’t a point of no return, so if there’s going to be an experiment, so be it.

    But let’s address the decision process. The last couple of days, hints have been going out that last Saturday’s victory over Wake Forest will be the last game on grass in Notre Dame Stadium in the foreseeable future. The playing surface is due for its every-five-years replacement, so while the hood is up, will they make a change? The South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen talked about it months ago. ESPN’s Matt Fortuna wondered about it before the Wake Forest game, but then had the good sense to ask Jack Swarbrick about it. While not confirming a choice, Jack seemed to be leaning that way:

    “I haven’t made a decision,” Swarbrick said regarding the playing surface of Notre Dame Stadium, which will undergo its every-five-year removal following this season. “The reasons to do it relate to the use of the stadium. We do commencement in here. We’d like to do an alumni function in here during the summer. I’d love for our team to be able to practice in here on Fridays. So you balance those things against the environment of natural turf, which feels sort of central to this place. That’s not an easy balance. We haven’t made it yet, but those are factors we’ll think about.”

    It’s good to see no “official” decision has been made, because this gives Jack the opportunity to avoid the mistake UMD president Wallace Loh and AD Kevin Anderson made, and give this decision the transparency it deserves. If change is to be embraced, even at the cost of tradition, the reasons behind the change need to be shared so that as many folks as possible can be given the chance to fully understand it. If people feel part of the process and have that understanding, they won’t feel “crammed”.

    For example, another change folks out there assume (erroneously) we here at NDN were against: The Stadium expansion. That was a decision handled with good transparency, which is why I don’t find it objectionable at all.

    The problem: The net number of alumni is increasing every year as ND graduates more people and people are living longer. With only 16,000 seats available in the alumni lottery, chances of an individual alumnus getting seats to at least one football game goes down every year, even if that alumnus is a member of a benefit society.

    The available solutions, first level: (1) Reduce the number of alumni (which, while possibly attractive to the sociopathic among us, isn’t going to happen) or (2) Increase the number of seats available in the lottery.

    The available solutions, second level: (1) Reallocate existing seats away from other groups (students, development, season ticket holders, etc.) to the alumni group (which would not be fair to those other groups and possibly damaging to the University as it would lose an incentive for people to donate to the school) or (2) Increase the physical number of seats in the Stadium.

    The available solutions, third level: (1) Move seats around in the current structure (impractical bordering on impossible) or (2) Modify the existing structure to allow for more seats.

    The available solutions, fourth level: (1) Add a secondary structure on top of the current one (completely changing the aesthetic of the stadium) or (2) Wrap the current structure in an expansion section (slight change of aesthetic, loss of TD Jesus view).

    This is how the expansion project was presented to alumni and fans well before it happened. Here’s the problem, here are the available solutions, here are the upsides, here are the downsides. We’ve thought about it, and we’ve chosen this one, realizing we have to accept the downsides as the cost of fixing the problem. That’s what made it acceptable. Yes, some things were going away, but balanced against the problem being solved, the cost/feasibility of the other solutions, and the benefits derived from solving it, the cost is worth paying. Tradition need not stop progress, but at least show us you gave some thought to saving it before moving forward.

    To Jack’s credit, he starts the process in the quote above, laying out the issues. A quality playing surface is important, and expanded use of the Stadium would be a big plus. Now he can take the next step and show all solutions are being considered before the bulldozers come in and the traditional grass goes away. If he wants to avoid the alumni grumbling that he dislikes so, that’s the best route. And when the inevitable put-a-big-screen-TV-in-there discussions start — and they will — it’ll be even more important because that one we can’t walk back.

    Don’t be a Terp on the turf, Jack. Talk to us.

    10 Responses to “Trans-Terp-ency”

    1. Three legitimate reasons to consider artificial turf (or some hybrid variation):

      1) Competitive advantage: the team will play on a guaranteed fast surface week in and week out.

      RESPONSE: We have won many titles on grass, and we went undefeated this year at home and may win another title.

      2) Practice in the stadium: Kelly has been quoted essentially saying that by having the players in the stadium more, they’ll be less awe-struck on Saturday and play better.

      REPONSE: Tell that to Timmy Brown, Michael Stonebreaker, Paul Hornung… Give me a break, we’re more mentally tough than that. And: we won them all this year!

      3) More utilization of the stadium: alumni events/graduation, etc.

      RESPONSE: Why the need to make more use of this stadium?! One of the things that makes it “the hallowed grounds” is it’s locked up the rest of the year and it’s hard to get a ticket and actually be in there. Over-exposing it and having people prance around on the field all year round removes this sense of rarity. I graduated in the JACC and it went fine (hard ticket for family, but whatever)

      I’ll never forget my first game in ’90 when I was 11 years old, walking out to my seat and seeing that perfectly manicured turf for the first time, tingles up the spine. I hope I can do that with my son in 10 years. Leave Rockne’s house alone. Keep it unique.

      • Replies:

        1. We have won many titles on grass but none in the last 24 years. Even if we manage to win one this year, is 1 out of every 24 good enough for you? If we could just ONE more title because of this playing surface, would that be worth it to you? I’m not saying we will, but your argument here holds no water.

        2. Tough players play well on any surface. But we don’t have a team of 85 Timmy Browns, Michael Stonebreakers or Paul Hornungs. Nobody does! If a new surface has a playing advantage for the ENTIRE team, then its worth it.

        3. The majority of the people who use the stadium on game days will not be the same people using it for other functions. The two usages have no relationship. Im pretty sure the graduating students won’t find their special day “ruined” because they were just in the stadium 6 months earlier for a football game. And the die hard fan who makes a pilgrimage to South Bend for a game won’t care that there was a big fund raising event there a few weeks earlier.

        There are only a few reasons to get field turf: faster surface, easier maintenance. There are only a few reasons to not want field turf: injury risk and tradition. I’m no expert on the details but I’m with Mike on this one. Put one in and see how the team does. If its universally hated then rip it out and go back to grass.

        • John, a different surface is not going to equate to championships. You really think we stopped winning titles becuase of the grass? Huh? I have three words for you: Davie, Willingham, Weis. Also, you can’t take a random 24 year period and make an erroneous argument. We won 1 championship because our team lacked leadership after Holtz, another story for another time. Holtz teams dominated on grass over his time there, I could take that period of time as well (overall he had 3 one loss teams in addition to the ’88 team; and I think he had a 3 year undefeated at home period).

          My point is that tradition brings money to this program. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. But, more importatnly, it brings an unparalleled experience. Change that so fund raisers can take place on the field? Ah, the irony.

          • Notre Dame doesn’t have a tradition of playing on grass. It has a tradition of playing high level football. Changing to some sort of synthetic field is not biting the hand that feeds it, it isn’t ruining an unparalleled experience and those who recently graduated might tell you that graduating inside the largest central structure on ND’s campus would enhance the tradition. Fund raising will not be hurt by the fact that we added a new playing surface inside Notre Dame Stadium that won’t come up in clumps in late November.

            In fact, the further back you look through history, the more you will realize that ND’s tradition is actually one of innovation. The only reason we are currently clinging to relics that happen to be associated with Notre Dame (like grass) is because for that period of 17+ years where we’ve lacked leadership, Notre Dame has stopped it’s tradition of innovation due to the poor leadership at the helm and those relics were all we had left to hold onto. Don’t confuse the central identity of our football program (academics, character, winning) with the white noise around it, as old-school as it all may be.

            • What’s innovative about synthetic grass? Is this cutting edge? No, been around for at least 40 years. Hopefully Yankee stadium, Lambeau field and Wrigley field don’t follow your logic and try to squeeze more use out of their facilities. Keep the grass, maintain tradition and the experience that Rockne & Co. shared (and, yes, we do have a tradition of playing on grass). See that’s the point of old venues, you can sit there and say “this is just like it was way back when.” Next you’ll probably argue that we should innovatively sell advertising in the stadium by putting up big McDonald’s signs, etc., to raise more money for the program. What’s not to like right? Nonsense. An innovative new retractable roof? Increase utility year round! Why not!!? Nonsense.

              Go Irish! Beat Trojans!!

    2. The interesting fallout from the Maryland move will be the long term effect on ND. I think it’s safe to say that the move to the ACC was primarily due to the implosion of the Big East, so all of the other varsity sports other than football had a conference to go to. That part I’m excited about, I think the overall sports programs in the ACC are much better than the Big East. From the football point of view, it makes scheduling easier, given the sizes of these super conferences growing, which I think was becoming more problematic. Also increased bowl availabilty is a good thing. Maryland and Florida State were the only 2 schools to vote against the $50M buyout clause and the rumors are flying about Florida State watching the whole Maryland case fallout since they may be making an exit to the Big 12. Unlike Maryland, Florida State doesn’t have a long history of ACC traditionand jump to the Big 12. I mean really? The BIg 12?

      I think the ACC needs to do 4 things. One is to bring in Temple and UConn, and maybe even Louisville and Cincinnati, although there may be some academic questions regarding the latter two. Secondly is to institute an academic consorsium similiar to the B1G CIC. Third, get a full blown ACC network going to capture the East Coast market. And probably hand in hand with this is to institute equal revenue sharing between all of their members, which could be really interesting given ND’s position within the conference, and probably ND’s reluctance to go down that road.

    3. The burning question is whether the Terps are more suited to the Legends or the Leaders Division.

      Is it just me, or are those names stupid?

    4. Mike…one of the solutions for turf is the hybrid system used by Green Bay. It’s a synthetic matrix underlayment that has natural grass growing through resulting in a natural turf with a higher strength that avoids/minimizes the torn up sod issue.

      I’d be disappointed if Jack doesn’t give this serious consideration…seems ideal for ND stadium.

    5. PolkaParty says:

      The hybrid turf is Desso Grassmaster. ND played Navy on it in Dublin. All the top euro soccer clubs use it as we’ll as the Packers, Broncos, and Eagles. ND would be the natural leader by bringing this system to the college ranks. Seems an easy pill to swallow for even the most pure of heart.

    6. Brian in Cleve says:

      Just ruminating here, but the tradition of playing on natural grass is grounded (no pun intended) in the overall pedestrian campus feel – There’s grass everywhere else on campus, so it should flow architecturally into the stadium as well. The natural grass on the field is an extension of the rest of the campus and creates the beautiful autumn outdoor feel of the stadium. If it truly is a shrine to football, then the stadium should have natural grass. How many “shrines” have fake rocks? Fake candles? To walk the lakes before the game, stroll across the quads, under the stately oaks, and then emerge into a stadium with turf would feel rather strange and, well, artificial, in the most negative sense of the word.

      Natural grass – and mud – create the aroma of the game. That’s part of the game for me and many other fans. The simple ruggedness of the playing field represents what is best about ND football and what has re-emerged this year in the team: toughness, dedication to doing the little things right, simple focus on fundamentals. The unadorned field unequivocally states to the opponent that we are here in this stadium for two reasons, and two reasons only. To give glory to God and to beat the living snot, will, and breath out of any team who arrives to play us. This is the tradition of Notre Dame football: To play the game at the highest level, with the most integrity, and with the most intensity and ferocity of any team in the nation. There are no distractions – and should be none- in the stadium. Just grass and some white lines, my friends.

      PS – From my experience working at a high school with turf, I can say that turf leads to more injuries and more staph infections.