Artificial Turf and SEC Expansion: Why It's Time for the Missouri Tigers to Get Real

With all due respect to Year2, he buried the lead. When evaluating the open letter to Tiger fans recently sent by Missouri’s athletic director, the Team Speed Kills co-author focused on Mizzou’s efforts to keep pace financially in the SEC arms race, which is all well and good, but inadequate attention was paid to this juicy tidbit:

Football Surface at Faurot Field - We will be replacing the existing artificial surface with a new artificial surface this summer (cost is approximately $1.5M). You'll see that the Tiger logo at mid field will be slightly larger, the SEC logos will be on the field, and the diamonds in the endzones will say "MIZZOU" vs. Missouri.

Wait . . . what? In honor of Mizzou’s move to the Southeastern Conference, the Tigers are uprooting their existing artificial turf and replacing it . . . with more artificial turf?!?!

Um, yeah, listen, Missouri; this is kind of awkward, but, well, we don’t do that around these parts. Yeah, all right, the SEC Championship Game is played on artificial turf, but that’s in a domed stadium, and Faurot Field isn’t a domed stadium, is it? (Checks to see if Faurot Field is a domed stadium.) No. No, it is not. So ixnay on the artificial urftay, O.K.?

Every down of college football ever played in Georgia’s Sanford Stadium, Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium, Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium, and Louisiana State’s Tiger Stadium has been played on grass. But for flirtations with astroturf from the late 1960s to the early 1990s, Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium, and fellow newcomer Texas A&M’s Kyle Field have been natural since opening in the 1920s; the same goes for Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (which had an artificial surface from 1971 to 1989, but otherwise has boasted the real green stuff since 1930), South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium (which broke up an admirable tradition of natural grass from 1934 forward with a fake field period from 1970 to 1982), and Vanderbilt’s Dudley Field (which opened with grass in 1922, switched to astroturf in 1970, and switched back to grass in 1999). Of the SEC’s current longstanding members, only schizophrenic Ole Miss (which permitted the Rebels to play on natural grass from 1915 to 1969, then again from 1984 to 2002, but employed artificial turf from 1970 to 1983, then again since 2003) appears to remain on the side of the infidels where synthetic surfaces are concerned. (My SB Nation colleagues from For Whom the Cowbell Tolls helpfully informed me that Mississippi State’s Davis Wade Stadium has natural grass, but, despite extensive Googling, it was not clear at press time whether Scott Field also went through a period of faking it, field-wise.)

This healthy disdain for the scourge of artificial turf is not unique to the league’s existing arenas, of course. Missouri’s Faurot Field featured a grass playing surface from the time it opened in 1926, through and including the 1984 season. After a decade spent playing on plastic, the Tigers went back to natural grass from 1995 to 2002. The fake stuff isn’t just contrary to conference tradition; it’s a deviation from most of Missouri’s football-playing history, as well. Frankly, switching from synthetic turf to grass then back to synthetic turf is the kind of thing schools that belong in the same conference as Texas do.

The fact that Bobby Petrino is for synthetic turf ought to be reason enough for being against it, but, even apart from matters of good taste, increases in injuries are widely believed to be associated with the fake stuff. Heck, folks at the University of Missouri have acknowledged the existence of problems associated with artificial turf.

Moreover, favoring fields that are the products of industrialization rather than preferring gridirons that are the fruits of agriculture is, if not downright un-American, certainly un-Southern, as the Vanderbilt Fugitive-Agrarians made plain; as a newly Southeastern institution whose university press published Mark Royden Winchell’s biography of Donald Davidson, y’all should appreciate that in Missouri. In short, Shug Jordan got it right: “College football is meant to be played on campus and on grass.” (Every team in the conference is clear on the fact that, when Coach Jordan said college football was meant to be played on grass, he was talking about the playing surface . . . every team in the conference, that is, except one.)

So good for y’all for getting rid of Faurot Field’s existing artificial surface this summer, but, please, as a fellow SEC partisan and a fan of the team that will welcome the Tigers to the league by playing in Columbia, Mo., next September 8, I’m begging you to lose the turf and put in grass, so we can play football the way God intended. A Southeastern Conference program is only as real as its field, and any team that hangs SEC banners in a stadium with an artificial playing surface is as unconvincing as a bleached brunette trying to pass herself off as a natural blonde; it’s hard to take either’s sincerity seriously, since the curtains don’t match the carpet.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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