HARRISONBURG — The Bridgeforth Stadium playing surface will have a slightly new look next football season, with purple end zones and “Zane Showker Field” written between the 15- and 35-yard lines on two sides.
Beyond cosmetics, the changes to the actual field are more significant.
In mid-May, James Madison University began replacing the 7-year-old, worn-out artificial playing surface with new FieldTurf that, according to the company, is the most advanced product it makes: FieldTurf Revolution.
“That’s what is installed in the NFL. That’s what people at D-I colleges are playing on around the nation,” said John McShane III, a FieldTurf regional sales manager. “Big-time football programs — Ohio State, Michigan — that’s what they’re playing on.”
McShane said Revolution is about “30 percent stronger than anything else on the market” because of the composition of the synthetic surface and that it’s “optimal” for football. But you don’t have to convince JMU football coach Mickey Matthews.
“I think FieldTurf is the only way to go,” he said.
FieldTurf is composed of synthetic grass that resembles shag carpet. The length of the synthetic grass (officially referred to as “pile height”) used for football fields ranges from 2¼ to 2½ inches — the longer the blade, the better the field. Revolution’s pile height is 2½ inches.
An “infill” — the term for material dumped between fake-glass blades — makes the field soft. It is composed of cryogenic rubber and silica sand.
JMU decided to replace its old surface, also FieldTurf, because it wore out quicker than promised after being installed in 2006. The field had become a safety issue, athletic director Jeff Bourne said, with small pieces coming up.
“Some of those fibers have been determined as not living up to their expectation,” McShane said. “And any of those fibers … we have ripped out and replaced with our newest, latest technology at our cost. It wasn’t like JMU [said], ‘We’ve only used it for [seven years] and let’s get something new.’ Or, ‘Hey, it’s worn out. This product stinks,’ or whatever. It’s us going to them: ‘Hey, we’re going to upgrade to this because it wasn’t doing what it was sold to us to do.”’
JMU deputy athletic director Geoff Polglase said the previous surface was supposed to last eight to 10 years and was under warranty until July 26, 2014. Rather than replacing the surface with the same type of FieldTurf at no cost, JMU decided to upgrade for a bargain-basement $370,431. McShane said the Revolution turf usually costs about $800,000 to $1 million for a football field.
“We negotiated with them for a discount on their current product, which has performed much better recently,” Polglase said Monday. “And we did that in light of the fact that we’re still under warranty and knowing that, in two or three years, when we would have had to replace it, we wouldn’t have had the benefit of that level of negotiation.”
The new turf, McShane said, comes with an eight-year warranty, but use and upkeep affect how long it will last. He said more than 200 FieldTurf fields are about to enter their 13th season of use.
Polglase said the new field’s installation will be completed in the next two weeks and that JMU made the decision to replace the field in late fall or early winter.
The Dukes’ home opener is Aug. 31 against Central Connecticut State.