SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame will break with tradition and replace the grass surface at the stadium known as the “House Rockne Built” and install artificial surface before the upcoming football season.
Athletic director Jack Swarbrick said the university would have preferred to stay with natural grass, but said field conditions in recent years made the change necessary.
“I was looking for a way to see if we could still do it, but I reached the conclusion, between the end of last season and this that we really couldn’t,” he said.
Among the factors that went into the decision were the university holding commencement at the stadium in recent years, which he said has made it harder to maintain good field conditions, and a proposed $400 million construction project that call for buildings to be added on three sides with the goal of getting more use out of the facility.
“We needed to make the change now if we were going to give our student athletes the playing surface they deserve,” he said.
Swarbrick said the change could allow the stadium to be used for other events, specifically mentioning an outdoor hockey game.
Last year the university installed new sod at the stadium four times, including twice during the season. Swarbrick said after seeing the Irish play on a torn up field on Sept. 28, “Notre Dame can’t have a field like we had against Oklahoma again.”
Coach Brian Kelly had said previously he wanted FieldTurf installed, but there was backlash from fans and alumni who oppose changing the traditions at Notre Dame Stadium. Kelly said after the Blue-Gold game on Saturday that the change will allow the team to practices sometimes at the stadium.
“We want to be able to get out there with our team. We want some safety issues to be not part of the equation,” he said.
He said in his four years at Notre Dame the field conditions haven’t been good.
“This is the best option available to us,” he said.
The university announced during its spring Blue-Gold game Saturday that installation of FieldTurf will begin after the commencement ceremony on May 18 and should be completed by Aug. 15.
The Irish open the season Aug. 30 at home against Rice.