Community voices opinions in response to artificial blue turf field

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Community voices opinions in response to artificial blue turf field

A computer-generated mock-up of the artificial blue turf field.  The design is still subject to change.

A computer-generated mock-up of the artificial blue turf field. The design is still subject to change.

Photo courtesy of Rob Larson and Eric Runestad

A computer-generated mock-up of the artificial blue turf field. The design is still subject to change.

Photo courtesy of Rob Larson and Eric Runestad

Photo courtesy of Rob Larson and Eric Runestad

A computer-generated mock-up of the artificial blue turf field. The design is still subject to change.

Danny May, News Editor

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In light of the college’s plans to install a blue artificial turf football field, students, faculty, and staff members alike have voiced opinions both in favor of and in opposition to the new facility.

Proponents say that the field will distinguish Luther from other schools, while critics point to it as a polarizing eyesore. 

According to Vice President for Development Jim Jermier, the blue coloring for the artificial turf field will cost more than the usual green coloring, which he said the college has budgeted for in its donor fundraising goal of $1.7 million.

“Depending on [which installation vendor] is selected, [the blue coloring] would be anywhere from the high teens to upper thirty thousand [dollar] range,” Jermier said.

Other costs associated with the new field, including replacements for the surface and underlying pad and changes to the track and the surrounding landscaping, are also built into the fundraising goal.

The fundraising goal will be met entirely through private donor gifts. Jermier explained that, as of May 8, the college was still working toward that goal and that the Luther Board of Regents will need to approve the project for this upcoming summer at its May 12-13 meeting.

“We do not want to use any college funding to apply toward the project,” Jermier said.

Vice President for Finance and Administration Eric Runestad said that fundraising for the field has been ongoing for the past several months, and that as of May 9, the college has raised approximately $1.4 million. Runestad added that the project will happen independent of the aggregate $26 million of improvements to the athletic facilities.

“It’s a self-contained project,” Runestad said. “We have the only grass field in the Iowa Conference and it is average to play on.”

In an effort to garner student-athlete input on the project, the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) collaborated with athletic administration to send out a survey on April 18 to all 643 Luther student-athletes in which they could choose their preferred artificial turf field color — blue, green, or no opinion — and comment accordingly. According to SAAC president Patrick Larson (‘17), 309 of the queried student-athletes responded, including responses from at least one person from each of the 19 NCAA sports teams on campus.

Larson said that SAAC decided to send out the survey after the athletic administration did not communicate intentions to consider input from SAAC prior to the April 6 Chips story which reported the plans for the new field. Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Renae Hartl explained that this move came because the administration had not yet decided that the field was going to be blue, and that after the Chips story she worked with SAAC by reviewing the survey questions. Larson saw the role of SAAC as aiding Hartl and the administration in their decision-making process.

“We wanted to get student-athlete feedback on a proposal that affects different sports teams,” Larson said. “The purpose wasn’t to undermine efforts to implement the new field, but to provide objective data for [Hartl].”

Larson explained that SAAC previously discussed with Student Senate the potential for gathering feedback from the entire student body but that said doing so is no longer feasible because the college has already committed to the project.

“This affects more than just student-athletes,” Larson said. “But knowing that Luther administration has already made this decision, [SAAC] supports the initiative.”

Kate Knepprath (‘17) | Photo Bureau
College administrators and President Paula Carlson (second from right) pose during a groundbreaking session for the new artificial turf football field.

For cross country student athlete Jordan Boge (‘18), the artificial turf field would be better if left green, because having blue turf is not a legitimate recruiting draw.

“I just don’t think blue turf looks good — if we just do green, that makes way more sense in my mind,” Boge said. “I feel that the color of turf is not a determinant for people coming to a college. If anyone is going to come to a college, it is going to be because of the programs and the things within it. If they are going to come to play football, they are going to come because of the program, not because of blue turf.”

Hartl remains open to criticism, and attended a May 7 SAAC meeting to answer questions about the project.

“I welcome discussion,” Hartl said in an interview. “I love the dialogue and the conversation this has created.”

The Luther football team played on St. Olaf College’s new artificial turf field on September 10, 2016 — the first game ever played on that field, which was installed in summer 2016 — an experience that, according to Head Football Coach Aaron Hafner, motivated Luther to install a similar surface.

“Our [players] loved it,” Hafner said. “It was soft and it fits into our sustainability efforts here at Luther. I did a lot of research and talked to them about the surface they put down.”

According to Hafner, the field contains recycled plastic beads instead of beads made of rubber tires, the former being a more sustainable material. For Luther Land Use Committee student member Shannon Meehan (‘18), this sustainability aspect is a top concern for the group.

“Being so close to the river I wonder if the plastic beads will get into our natural land and rivers,” Meehan said.

Hafner remained focused on the new field’s marketability and player satisfaction as positives, with a nod to criticism that has arisen surrounding it.

“[This will allow us] to market ourselves a bit differently than other Iowa conference schools and help our football team grow,” Hafner said. “People who are disappointed about us putting a blue turf down are going to attack [these] things.”

For football team quarterback Brady Letney (‘18), the plans for the new field are exciting and provide a chance for improved athlete performance and recruiting college-wide.

“I think everyone [on the football team] has bought in, and they’re all for it,” Letney said. “It’s pretty rare that you get to play on a unique surface like blue [artificial] turf.”

In response to criticism, Letney explained that his reservations regarding the new field were eliminated after Hafner showed him the tentative design. 

“After seeing the actual layout, I think it enhances the view of the valley,” Letney said. “If it was all blue, including the surrounding area, it would be too much, but the addition of the green surrounding the blue isn’t overwhelming. It complements the tennis courts well and is a really sharp look.”

Letney also advocated for the artificial turf field’s performance benefits, which complement the football team’s triple-option offense, a fast-paced play scheme that features three players who might run the ball on any given play.

“Our offense is predicated on being in the right place at the right time,” Letney said. “Overall, I feel that it is easier to cut [on a turf field].”

Runestad added his support for campus conversation on any of the college’s plans for new projects.

“If we didn’t hear that opposition, we would be worried,” Runestad said. “Because that means people aren’t paying attention.”

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