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Turf selection can be a confusing decision. 

Understanding basic principals can ease the pain. 

sponsored by:

This feature is produced by College Athletics Clips and FieldTurf.  The purpose of the series is to educate and inform college athletics administrators about field and maintenance issues and solutions associated with the operation of athletics fields.

Comments contained herein are not intended as recommendations for readers.  Field management requirements vary significantly from one sport (and college) to the next; therefore these are individual decisions.  College administrators with specific questions should contact a reputable synthetic turf company specializing in college athletics.  A good place to start would be FieldTurf, whose products are as close to natural grass as can be.


Synthetic turf was born (somewhat prematurely) in 1965 at the Houston Astrodome--the largest indoor sports facility in the world.  The structure was originally designed to have a dirt floor with natural grass under a clear plastic roof.  A portion of the roof had to be painted to reduce glare, grass could not grow, and there was a mad scramble to find a solution.  At the eleventh hour 125,000 square feet of synthetic turf was installed. 

At first blush, the stiff installation cost for synthetic fields can cause sticker shock.  However, once that hurdle is surmounted, synthetic fields look better and better in every way.  Maintenance costs?  Far less than natural turf fields: no fertilizer, irrigation, overseeding, soil diseases, aeration, grubs, moles, but most significantly--considerably less labor and equipment costs.  Gone are a fleet of lawn tractors. Gone is the mud bog at the 50-yard line. Gone are the pools of water from November’s cold rains.  Field usage?  Bring them on!—and for 24 hours at a time if you want.  Climatic conditions?  Monsoon, drought, minus 30, not a problem.

After switching back and forth from natural grass to synthetic turf, then back to natural grass, many schools are reinstalling the much improved newest generation of synthetic turf.  For example, a school in California switched to a synthetic field last year.  The facilities manager raved about his new field, “The coach really wanted to have a facility he could use 365 days a year and not have the playing conditions go from optimal to marginal with that heavy use,” he said. “The field looks remarkably like natural grass.  It has a longer fiber and it has variation in color and texture. It's not perfectly uniform like the old nylon products.”

Most people couldn't tell the difference between natural fields and the newest generation of synthetic fields.  John Gilman, CEO of FieldTurf, attributes much of his company's success to a story that former University of Nebraska coach Tom Osborne did not know he was walking on a FieldTurf-created field, rather than a natural turf field.

About five years ago Osborne flew to Pittsburgh to meet Gilman. When Osborne walked across the high school field to introduce himself, Osborne asked Gilman where the synthetic field was.  Gilman pointed down at his toes, and soon Nebraska had a FieldTurf field.

"The man coached for 25 years...and didn't realize he had walked across an artificial field," said Gilman, who called supplying Nebraska with its field a "seminal event."  FieldTurf has grown exponentially since 1996 when it did about $1 million in business. This year, he said, the company stands to hit about $75 million.

FieldTurf is dramatically different from traditional synthetic turf. The most striking difference is Field Turf’s soft, silky fiber surface--like new blades of grass in a spring meadow. Players can slide, tackle and tumble on FieldTurf’s unique blend of specially treated Polyethylene fibers without fear of abrasions. Rug burns are a thing of the past.

But FieldTurf is much more than just the absence of abrasions. Unlike traditional turf, FieldTurf does not rely on an underlying shock pad for safety, resilience and player comfort. Rather, like its natural grass cousin, FieldTurf’s grass fibers are surrounded and stabilized by a special blend of “synthetic earth” - FieldTurf’s patented mixture of smooth, rounded silica sand, rubber granules, and NIKE GRIND made of re-ground athletic shoe material.

The rubber granules are a key component. Tire rubber is cryogenically frozen, shattered into smooth, clean, rounded particles, sized and shaped to stay “in suspension” with the sand, which is of a similar size, shape and weight. The sand and rubber are precision layered to guarantee uniformity, with an installation process that is also patented.

Although the perception persists that more injuries occur on synthetic fields than on a natural field, the fact is that injury levels on synthetics have been dramatically reduced.  FieldTurf's patented wide gauge, tall pile fabric with wide rows accommodates a synthetic earth filling.  The distance between the rows of fibers tufted into the backing is very wide, and related directly to the height of the pile fibers. The taller the pile, the wider the distance between the fibers.

The designers at FieldTurf discovered that the only way to truly emulate natural grass is to combine all these elements into an integrated system. They have discovered that cleated shoes can penetrate the fibers, plant into the sand / rubber infill, twist easily and release (with minimal torsional resistance).  This design accounts for the documented reduction in lower extremity injuries and significantly reduced neural injuries of players competing on FieldTurf, even compared to natural grass.

FieldTurf is clearly several generations improved from the carpet-like turf that was installed at the AstroDome in the mid 60's.   With a stable, resilient, uniform, shock-absorbing surface, FieldTurf is the original and only system emulating natural grass.

FieldTurf is the best example of the new generation of synthetics that have a give and feel more like natural grass than the first generation of synthetics.  The newest generation features developments that benefit athletes and facility administrators alike.  Troy Squires, VP-Marketing of FieldTurf, says, “Field owners want their turf to look like natural grass, but when you look at a field and see black rubber showing on the surface, it does not look very natural.  FieldTurf's softer, silkier blades yield the optimum combination of turf properties.”

Synthetic turf should be like grass, not carpet.  Mr. Squires added, “FieldTurf has developed a system that offers the beneficial biomechanical properties of natural grass, combined with the best attributes of a durable synthetic system: all-weather playability, low maintenance and unlimited playing time.”  Hmm.  It seems that synthetic turf is not just carpet any more.

College athletics departments face a dizzying choice when considering field upgrades or replacements.  Due to the plethora of scheduled activities on many campuses, synthetic is often the wise decision.  Once synthetic has been decided, then there is a multitude of seemingly different and seemingly experienced assortment of turf companies.  How to choose?

Industry insiders recommend a hierarchy of decision steps.  Usually first on the list are considerations of field use, weather and maintenance.  These elements lead quickly into a cost / budget analysis, which includes not just installation cost, but also the markedly different maintenance and labor costs associated with natural and synthetic turfs.  Further consideration should be given to total costs (including warranty and service reliability)—the best arrangements are rarely the lowest bids.  Most importantly, once the decision on the field type has been made, administrators should seek out a vendor whose experience and capabilities will provide a comfort zone. 

Says Darren Gill of FieldTurf, “Once a school concludes that a synthetic field is the direction they want to go, then there are only a handful of top notch companies with the knowledge and installation experience to advise on the best product for each specific situation.  And only FieldTurf stands alone with its unique combination of installation experience, patented product superiority and the strongest dealer network in the business.”

It’s not just carpeting any more.


FieldTurf, a Montreal based company, is the world's leader in high quality sports surfaces.  Having earned a reputation as the highest quality artificial grass for amateur and pro teams, FieldTurf fields are unmatched when it comes to performance, playability, low-maintenance, safety and durability. FieldTurf has revolutionized the artificial turf industry with its patented products and installation technologies.  With more than 800 installations in over 20 countries, FieldTurf has become the first choice for top stadiums around the world.


For more information visit the FieldTurf website at:  or call Darren Gill, Marketing Manager at 1-800-724-2969.


  • NCAA News

  • Injury Incidence Study ’03 – Bill Bamhill, MD

  • NCAA 2003 Football Records Book



•  The latest injury research on synthetic and natural turf

•  Maintenance specifics associated with synthetic turf