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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 9, 2002

On the surface, it appears Hawai'i is behind in turf war

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Columnist

Hawai'i has one of the few stadiums in the West that still has AstroTurf for its playing surface.

Advertiser library photo • July 21, 1999

Boise State says it will be laying down a new playing surface in its football stadium shortly, either AstroPlay or FieldTurf.

Utah plans to install a new one, FieldTurf, next month.

Oregon is scheduled to put down a new field, also FieldTurf, before the start of the season.

If it seems like the landscape of college football, that part between the goal posts, is changing before our eyes, it might be because it is.

Of the 28 Division IA schools in the West — Western Athletic, Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences — UH is scheduled to be one of just three still playing on the familiar nylon AstroTurf this season.

All the other schools, for the most part ones UH either plays or recruits against, will have fields that fall into the two other main categories: natural grass or the almost-like-grass synthetic blend.

It is a trend that shouldn't be overlooked here. Especially when there is a growing urgency about the future of the four-year-old AstroTurf 12 carpet at Aloha Stadium.

It is artificial food for thought, especially with UH in danger of losing its most popular opponent, Brigham Young University, and the state potentially risking its most visible sporting event, the Pro Bowl, if things don't change.

BYU coach Gary Crowton has said his team suffered so many injuries (18 were claimed to be turf-related) in its Dec. 8 game at Aloha Stadium that his president, "said we won't go back there until they put in a new turf." With BYU contracted to return in 2004 and the schools talking about extending the schedule beyond, it isn't a threat to be dismissed.

Nor is what is at stake with the Pro Bowl, whose 2000 contract with the Hawai'i Tourism Authority contains a clause that compelled the state to make a "best efforts" bid at replacing the current surface for 2002.

Natural, cow-munchable grass is still the preferred surface in college football. Sixteen of the West teams have it on their home fields — and about two-thirds nationally.

But for the others, those for whom frequent usage and weather don't allow for natural grass or those who don't want the maintenance costs, the it-looks-and-feels-just-like-grass substitutes, including AstroPlay and FieldTurf, are the flavors of the millennium.

They feature 2 1/2 inch grass-like blades of polyethylene and polypropylene blend surrounded by ground rubber and graded silica compared with the knitted nylon of AstroTurf.

The University of Hawai'i football team, which last season played on natural grass (Maui), AstroTurf 12 (Aloha Stadium), FieldTurf (Tulsa and Nevada) and SportGrass (Southern Methodist), proclaimed FieldTurf its far and away favorite.

Turf specialist George Toma says the preferred surfaces among NFL players are natural grass, then FieldTurf.

Jim Steeg, NFL director of special events, said the league is willing to pay an undisclosed portion of the costs to install a new surface at Aloha Stadium. If the switch had been made last year, Steeg said it could have been accomplished at a special $600,000 promotional price, almost half of what it might have normally cost.

Aloha Stadium manager Eddie Hayashi has said the Stadium Authority has hired consultants to study the concerns.

Meanwhile, the ground is changing under college and professional football. And, it behooves Hawai'i to make sure it doesn't get left behind with all that is riding on it here.