A deeper look at the Argos move & turf issues

After a game at the University of Waterloo’s Warrior Field I recall my son saying … “Dad, this is the best turf I’ve ever played on.” Walking on the field it did feel soft and “cushiony”. And it looked great. UW had FieldTurf installed before that 2011 season.

The next season Guelph replaced their grass field with FieldTurf Revolution turf. The details of that announcement are here. I’m not sure if Guelph and UW have the identical FieldTurf product but they appear to be very similar.

What isn’t particularly similar is the turf at Guelph’s Varsity Field, the field approximately 500 yards east of Alumni Stadium. The Gryphon football team used that field extensively for practices in 2010 and 2011, and still occasionally use it. No player or coach who has practiced there particularly likes it, especially after you get use to the FieldTurf in Alumni Stadium.

The turf at Varsity Field is a Polytan surface. It is harder. It doesn’t have the same soft and “cushiony” feel. All the fields in the UofG soccer complex are also Polytan surfaces but the demands of football and soccer are very different. You just don’t get slammed into the turf or have your head hit the ground as often in soccer as football.

The use of the FieldTurf Revolution surface has been shown to reduce serious injuries and concussion injuries. The FieldTurf product uses longer grass-like fibres and “supports” them with infill layers of sand and rubber crumbs to create a more forgiving surface.

turfjgraphic

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Now, think about the issues raised by the Toronto Argonauts.

The Toronto Argonauts are moving their training camp to Guelph to protect the knees and backs of both players and coaches.

There were too many complaints about injuries on York University’s turf last season, Jim Barker said Tuesday.

The headline of that Toronto Star story really said it all … Injuries behind the Argos move from York to Guelph. But the sub-header created some confusion about the issue … But both schools use FieldTurf, so problems with training camp home may be psychological, GM admits. Argos GM Jim Barker also “admitted he did not know of any scientific proof that York’s turf is harder on the knees than the turf at Alumni Stadium in Guelph”.

The confusion comes in here … both schools use FieldTurf.

The fact is … both schools do NOT use FieldTurf.

York’s turf was installed by FieldTurf but it is a Polytan surface and not a FieldTurf product. The difference between the turf in Alumni Stadium and the turf in York Stadium is very similar to the difference between the turf in Alumni Stadium and Varsity Field.

The Guelph Tribune carried a similar story about the reasons for the Argos coming to Guelph – Turf big factor in Argos move to University of Guelph.

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New Head Coach Stu Lang is introduced - April 2010

New Head Coach Stu Lang is introduced – April 2010

This entire issue only makes me appreciate more the foresight and thoroughness of Stu Lang, as it was Lang who back in 2012 insisted that the new turf in Alumni Stadium be FieldTurf. Former Athletic Director Tom Kendall tried to substitute Polytan turf but Lang would have no part of that. The school President at the time, Alastair Summerlee, ended up siding with Coach Lang and his choice of FieldTurf.

Now think about it, where would Guelph be if Stu Lang hadn’t done his research and stuck to his guns?

Well for one thing, the Toronto Argonauts, and the several hundred thousand dollars that a CFL training camp represents, wouldn’t be coming to Guelph. And, what about the benefits to the player experience? And fewer injuries?

Mac logoIf you think I’m wrong, take note of the fact that McMaster University is currently replacing the turf at Ron Joyce Stadium with FieldTurf Revolution turf. I doubt that their turf was worn out as the stadium didn’t open until 2008 and the life expectancy of synthetic turf is usually at least ten years. Why, then, are they changing it?

I imagine the Hamilton Tiger-Cats played a large part in that decision. Since the Ticats hold their training camp at McMaster, one can reasonably assume that the Tiger-Cat players had similar complaints about the Mac turf as Argos players did about York’s. And the Tiger-Cats now have FieldTurf revolution turf at the new Tim Hortons Field, so it is quite logical to want consistency.

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Tim Hortons Field – Photo: Spec

I expect that the Tiger-Cats offered some “incentives” to the Mac Athletic Department to scrap their old turf in favour of FieldTurf. Again, a CFL training camp is worth several hundred thousand dollars to a university in rental charges and services provided.

There was talk back in 2013, about the Tiger-Cats holding regional training camps and rotating them between campuses in St. Catharines, Guelph, Waterloo and London. The thought was that it would help them to extend their fan-base and season ticket footprint. If that were to have ever happened, McMaster would have been the loser.

Working with the Ticats on the turf issue helps the Marauders in more ways than one. They likely have assured themselves of the training camp revenue for years to come while improving the player experience of their athletes and reducing injuries.

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As we all know Stu Lang made a $10 million donation to Queen’s University to get their long-awaited new stadium project moving forward. Not surprisingly, the new Richardson Stadium will have FieldTurf Revolution turf. Knowing what he went through at Guelph I’m sure Lang made that a stipulation up front.

A rendering of the new Richardson Stadium. Queen's ended up selecting a blander design for the end zones

A rendering of the new Richardson Stadium. Queen’s ended up selecting a blander design for the end zones

Since Richardson Stadium was the last venue in the OUA with natural grass, all 11 football fields in the conference will now have synthetic turf. At least four of those schools will have FieldTurf – Waterloo, Guelph, McMaster and Queen’s. Seven of 9 CFL stadiums, more than 100 NCAA teams and 22 of 32 NFL teams use FieldTurf. Polytan now markets a product that is similar to FieldTurf with its sand and cryogenic rubber layers of infill.

In the future York could potentially join that group. York Stadium does have a Polytan surface that is only two years old. But York has a chance to get it right if/when the PanAm track and field stadium on the York campus is retrofitted for use for field sports like football, soccer and rugby. If York chooses wisely they could end up having the best on-campus football stadium in all of the OUA, maybe the CIS.

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Speaking of best in the CIS … the Ground Breaking Ceremony for the $8.5 million Football Pavilion at Guelph will be next week – Thursday, April 28 at 4 pm.

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The new facility features a state-of-the-art locker room, players’ lounge with kitchen, therapy room with cold and hot tubs, equipment room, coaches offices, meeting rooms and a board room. The two largest meeting rooms and the roof top will double as licensed, game-day viewing areas for alumni.

The Parents of Players group will be at the ceremony with their best in the CIS barbeque to cook up some of their fine food.

 

 

 

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3 Responses to A deeper look at the Argos move & turf issues

  1. Great article, Pete. I had been following the discussion on ACG but that was a nice recap about the trends and decisions made on and around the turf question. Off hand, do you know what the cost of the premium surface is, and how that measures up compared to the polytan stuff?

    • There is a huge difference in price.

      I recall Justin Dunk, when he was Sports Editor of The Ontarion, taking the Ath Dept to task for spending hundreds of thousands more on their soccer field turf than competitive products.

      The OUA preference for Polytan may have more to do with cozy relationships with a big OUA sponsor – Centaur Products.

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