The center is dedicated to researching the performance and safety of natural and synthetic turf surfaces used on athletic fields. It represents the single largest athletic field research effort ever undertaken.

University of Tennessee and AstroTurf Open Research Center for Athletic Field Safety

From the little leagues to the big leagues, injury prevention and performance are key issues in today’s sports world.  Turfgrass scientists at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture and AstroTurf have partnered on a research program to address these problems.

The University of Tennessee and AstroTurf® today dedicated the Center for Athletic Field Safety (CAFS). The center is a one-of-a-kind facility dedicated to researching the performance and safety of natural and synthetic turf surfaces used on athletic fields. It represents the single largest athletic field research effort ever undertaken. Ceremonies were held at the research site located at the UT Institute of Agriculture’s East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Knoxville, Tenn.

“Great universities and public/private partnerships provide ideal solutions that make a difference in people’s lives.  In this case, the lives of athletes,”  Dr. Joe DiPietro, president of the University of Tennessee told a capacity crowd as they overlooked 60 to-scale miniature athletic fields facing Lake Loudon in the southern part of Knox County. “We wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the Peeples family and AstroTurf,” he said.

“This is a very important day for me and my family,” Bryan Peeples, president of AstroTurf, said. “Involvement in the center gets to the core of what we are all about. Like UT, we are in the solutions business for the textile and synthetic turf industries. As soon as we can get these research findings out, AstroTurf and others on the open market can use this information to make safer fields for athletes.”

Dr. John Sorochan, co-investigator and associate professor of Plant Science saw his vision fulfilled with today’s events. “This is the most exciting day of my life as an academician,” he said. “Our goal is to make fields safer at all levels of play. This center is a canvas for collaboration, affecting not only turfgrass study but areas of study such as biomechanics and human kinetics on a national level.”

The two-acre Center for Safer Athletic Fields aims to make a long-term difference. While determining the safety and performance of synthetic turf products compared to various natural turfgrass systems, UT turfgrass scientists will also monitor these relationships over time. Additionally, they will evaluate the environmental impacts of each system. The research should lead to the development of new, more accurate methods for testing the safety and performance of all synthetic turf systems.

“Injuries are a huge concern in all athletics. The CDC has shown in studies that $49 billion is spent every year in medical and legal expenses due to injuries affecting children under 14,” said Jim Brosnan, co-investigator and assistant professor of Plant Science.

“Studies have shown that 25 percent of injuries that occur in athletics are potentially related to the conditions of the playing surface, while others have shown 50 percent of all sports injuries are preventable. We need to learn more about how athletes interact with playing surfaces.” 

Natural surfaces are planted with bermudagrass, Kentucky bluegrass and others. Both mechanical and human studies will be performed to create “real play” conditions. The research will be scientifically based for statistical analysis. In addition, the geographic location of the site will enable scientists to conduct research on a variety of surfaces from both cool- and warm-season climates. The unique outdoor research facility comprises 60 small-scale athletic research fields constructed from a variety of playing surfaces. UT turfgrass scientists will compare the safety and performance of synthetic playing surfaces to natural grass surfaces. Field qualities will range from those employed for professional–level sports to surfaces used by schools, public parks and recreation fields.

The UT Center Athletic Field Safety will also further education for University of Tennessee students, enabling UT Plant Sciences faculty to add another level to the curriculum to train and educate future sports turf practitioners.