Blame the polar vortex. "This is Mother Nature at its finest," Al Capitos said [last week]. Capitos was standing inside Purdue's Ross-Ade Stadium on a brown patch, near what is believed to be the 50-yard line. Hard to tell with the brown overpowering the green. The prolonged periods of subzero temperatures killed the Bermuda grass. Not just at Purdue. Other stadiums are seeing the same color, and it's not green.
Will football turf at Purdue green up in time?
Blame the polar vortex.
“This is Mother Nature at its finest,” Al Capitos said Wednesday.
Capitos was standing inside Purdue’s Ross-Ade Stadium on a brown patch, near what is believed to be the 50-yard line. Hard to tell with the brown overpowering the green.
The prolonged periods of subzero temperatures killed the Bermuda grass. Not just at Purdue. Other stadiums and golf courses are seeing the same color, and it’s not green.
Capitos is the athletic department’s sports turf and maintenance superintendent. Capitos and his crew of about 30 full-time and part-time workers are on their way to restoring the turf before the Aug. 30 opener against Western Michigan. That’s less than two months away.
He has other grass fields to supervise. The grass field at the Bimel Practice Complex didn’t recover, and the two soccer fields experienced the same problems.
The full extent of the damage wasn’t known until early May. Last month, what was left of the turf resembled a dirt race course. It doesn’t look much better today, but all signs point to the surface showing its true color — green — by the end of the month.
“We’re hoping by the end of July we’ll be 100 percent green,” Capitos said.
The bone-chilling Arctic air impacted a large part of the country, killing Bermuda grass from the East Coast to as far west as Arkansas. Sprigs — small stems planted in the ground which are harvested from a grass field — became a popular item.
GrassMasters Sod Farm in Patoka, located in southern Indiana, had enough, but only after a golf course cancelled its order. The sprigs — about 2,000 bushels — were planted one week ago. The stadium turf was also seeded.
“Initially they look dead, but this is a live piece of grass,” Capitos said, pulling one up from the ground. “This whole field is covered in what looks like yellow pieces of grass clippings. Those are live pieces of grass to start coming alive.”
Water is soaking the ground nearly every hour throughout the day and overnight. Fertilizer was being applied Wednesday morning in an effort to feed the sprigs when they’re ready to spread. Capitos hopes for above-average temperatures, a key ingredient in helping the Bermuda strain thrive.
“You stand, wait and watch and nothing happens, but then boom,” Capitos said.
Purdue is using Latitude 36 Bermuda grass for the first time, Capitos said. It was developed by Oklahoma State and is also used at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C. According to the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program, Latitude is one of the top-ranked Bermudas in wear tolerance, shear strength, color texture and spring green-up.
Will fans be able to tell the difference?
“Green is green for a lot of people,” Capitos said.
He has options if the sprigs don’t do their job.
“We can always put ryegrass seed in and make it a ryegrass field. It will be green,” Capitos said.
The condition of the playing surface has rekindled the debate of a grass field or FieldTurf. Following the 2005 season, the athletic department studied a long-term solution after chunks of sod impacted playing conditions. That’s when a cold-weather strain of Bermuda grass was installed.
Capitos was part of the discussions nearly a decade ago, and doesn’t have a preference regarding the future. However, what happened this past winter was a subject that was mentioned during every conversation.
“When we decided to go this direction, this was the understanding that this was a possibility,” Capitos said. “Bermuda is a grass that researchers have been focusing on to try and improve the quality of natural grass fields. But — and it was always a but — in any conversation we had with me or the folks down in the agronomy department, the winter kill is a serious and significant issue that we have to consider.”
Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said last month the school will study the cost and benefits of a grass field compared to FieldTurf.
“There’s arguments on both sides,” Burke said. “I’m not saying we’ll do it or won’t do it but I think we would be remiss if we didn’t look at it.”
Ross-Ade Stadium is used throughout the year, hosting weddings, meetings and other events. Plus, coach Darrell Hazell and his coaching staff show recruits the field — and right now, the turf isn’t an appealing selling point.
Burke said the school’s agriculture history plays a role, but won’t be the overriding factor in the final decision.
“We’re an ag school; we’re proud of being able to grow grass,” he said. “On the other hand, times change and we would be remiss if we didn’t at least include it in the scope of the review.”
Capitos said more research into Bermuda Grass makes the product viable in northern climates, but 10 of the 14 stadiums in the Big Ten now feature FieldTurf. Notre Dame announced in the spring it was switching to FieldTurf.
All five of Purdue’s road games this season will be played on FieldTurf.
“There are different techniques we’re using to keep the field greener longer, but FieldTurf is in a lot of places. You can’t go a season without playing on FieldTurf,” Capitos said. “We would still have to maintain it. You don’t put FieldTurf down and walk away. There’s a lot of things you have to do to keep it safe and playable just like this field.”