NCAA Case Study

Playing Field at Sunshine State University  Read the case study, Here’s the Pitch: The Dilemma of Selecting a New Outdoor Playing Field for Sunshine State University (Simmons, Popp, & Greenhalgh, 2015). The case  study investigates the challenges of deciding between natural or synthetic surface for the new fields. This decision is complex because cost, maintenance, durability, player safety, and player preference must all be considered. Both surfaces have their advantages and disadvantages. In the end, Rodriguez must decide which surface is right for Sunshine State University. 1. Make a list of all the factors Rodriguez needs to consider in this case. Which of these factors are the most important for an NCAA Division-II athletic department? Why? 2. Conduct a 10-year cost–benefit analysis for the fields. In your analysis, be sure to include installation costs, annual maintenance costs, and equipment costs. Which surface provides a better long-term value from a financial perspective? Conduct a 20-year cost–benefit analysis. Assume costs remain the same, but you must now account for a replacement synthetic field after 10 years. Which surface provides a better financial value after 20 years? 3. What additional information would Rodriguez want/need prior to making this decision? 4. What surface should Rodriguez choose to install at SSU? What are the two most significant factors that contributed to your decision? Once a surface is selected, decide on a specific product. Justify your selection, both for the surface and product choices. Answer the questions in APA format (please modify each question into a header); each paper should be at least 3-5 pages in length in addition to a cover page and bibliography. References Simmons, J., Popp, N., Greenhalgh, G. (2015). Here’s the pitch: The dilemma of selecting a new outdoor playing field for Sunshine State University. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

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Volume 4 Case Study 12 IN SPORT MANAGEMENT Case STUDIES

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Jason Simmons is with Sport Administration, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio. Nels Popp is with the Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Greg Greenhalgh is with the Center for Sport Leadership, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia. Address author correspondence to Jason Simmons at jason.simmons@uc.edu.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/cssm.2015-0009

Here’s the Pitch: The Dilemma of Selecting a New Outdoor Playing Field for Sunshine State University

Jason Simmons University of Cincinnati

Nels Popp University of North Carolina

Greg Greenhalgh Virginia Commonwealth University

The outdoor athletic fields of Sunshine State University are in poor condition. Overuse, insufficient drain- age, and a lack of human and financial resources have contributed to the fields’ deterioration. Sunshine State University’s director of athletics, Emily Rodriguez, has decided to replace the existing fields, but that decision is just the tip of the iceberg. Rodriguez now must decide on a natural or synthetic surface for the new fields. This decision is complex because cost, maintenance, durability, player safety, and player preference must all be considered. Both surfaces have their advantages and disadvantages. In the end, Rodriguez must decide which surface is right for Sunshine State University.

Keywords: facility management, decision making, natural grass, synthetic turf, college athletics

As director of athletics at NCAA Division-II Sunshine State University (SSU), Emily Rodriguez oversees facility and event operations for a 14-sport athletic department. One of Rodriguez’s most pressing concerns is the condition of SSU’s outdoor athletic fields, which consistently garner negative feedback from coaches, players, and fellow Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC) administrators. The campus currently has two natural grass fields, one for varsity competition (with seating for roughly 1,500 spectators) and one practice field, which is used by men’s and women’s soccer (in-season fall), women’s lacrosse (in-season spring), and outdoor men’s and women’s track and field (in-season spring). In addition to varsity sports, the fields are used for intramurals, club sports, SSU summer sports camps, and youth tournaments. In total, the fields are used on 220 to 240 dates per year.

Both fields are experiencing overuse, which has worn away much of the grass in certain spots, such as the area in front of the goals. Sunshine State University’s maintenance staff has limited human and financial resources, which has contributed to the fields’ deterioration. The fields were not designed with adequate drainage systems, so when it rains, water pools in depressions in the surface for an extended period of time after the storm passes. These depressions have also made it difficult for Rodriguez’s coaches to schedule out-of-conference games, as some opposing coaches have expressed an unwillingness to play on the field. While the GCAC has never suggested Rodriguez’s fields are unsuit- able for conference games, the inability to attract prominent out-of-conference opponents has significantly increased the travel budgets for her outdoor teams. If that weren’t enough, Rodriguez’s own coaches have also said the facilities have hurt their ability to recruit top student-athletes.

 

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Rodriguez has been in consultation with administrators from other schools and knows that a handful of SSU’s com- petitors have transitioned to synthetic turf for their outdoor fields. After pleading her case to university administration about improving athletic facilities, the athletic department has been approved for a 1-year capital improvement increase of $350,000 from university funds to improve the outdoor fields. In addition to that allotment, the athletic department can generate additional dollars through private gifts, sponsorship sales, and outside rentals.

Despite the fundraising challenges ahead, Rodriguez has made the decision to replace both fields, but she is unsure which direction to go: natural grass or synthetic turf. Brent O’Toole, SSU’s director of grounds and landscape mainte- nance, is a purist and prefers a natural surface; however, he has insisted that if Rodriguez goes with natural grass, she needs to invest in a sand-based field to address drainage and compaction issues plaguing the existing fields. Sand-based fields are a bit more expensive than those that incorporate native soil.

In the past, SSU has issued requests for proposals (RFPs) for capital projects, such as when the gymnasium roof needed to be replaced and when permanent seating fixtures were added to the baseball and softball stadiums. In each case, three to five firms bid on the projects, with cost being the most important factor. Money is tight in the department, but from her own research and conversations with colleagues at other institutions, Rodriguez has learned that unlike other capital improvement projects, cost is just one of many factors to consider when it comes to turf replacement. Other issues Rodriguez has encountered include maintenance requirements, durability, player safety, and coach/player preference. This is not a decision to be taken lightly. The decision Rodriguez makes today will affect the athletic department and campus for at least the next 10 to 15 years.

Costs

Rodriguez invited a turf specialist, Dave Acker, to campus to examine the existing fields and help her estimate how much it would cost to replace the competition field and the practice field. The cheapest option would be to simply replace the current fields with new grass on top of the existing soil. Acker told her she could probably stay under an installation cost of $200,000 going this route, but she would likely run into the same problems she is facing now in the not too distant future, as the existing soil has percolation and drainage problems. The sand-based fields that O’Toole recommended would cost roughly $700,000 to install, but they drain at a significantly faster rate and should have fewer compaction problems (Turfgrass Producers International, n.d.).

Acker is an advocate for synthetic fields, particularly for fields receiving a lot of use. One of the biggest issues that Director of Grounds and Landscape Maintenance O’Toole has with maintaining the existing fields is that they are constantly being utilized. Even in the summer, the soccer and lacrosse teams hold youth camps and tournaments, and practices start up in early August. The fields are given very little time to recover, resulting in bare spots all over the field. The installation costs for synthetic fields can be substantial, and somewhat difficulty to determine. Rodriguez spoke with representatives from several different synthetic turf providers and the quotes she was given varied drastically, with some only covering the cost of installation, and others including the cost of maintenance and equipment as well. A salesperson from DreamFields, Inc., gave Rodriguez an installation estimate of $450,000 per playing field. Acker felt the estimate was on the low end, noting a synthetic surface would likely range from $600,000 to $1,000,000 for a single field (Adamson, 2008; Simon, 2010; SportsTurf Managers Association, n.d.a.). These latter numbers are more in line with what Rodriguez heard from other synthetic turf companies she contacted.

Rodriguez also consulted with Christian Goldberg, the athletic director from fellow GCAC-member Eastern Florida Shore University (EFSU), who recently made a similar decision and opted for synthetic turf. For Goldberg, the constant use and harsh summer and fall rains made the decision easy. He did admit it was a more costly option, but an EFSU alum, who has had a notable career in the NFL, made a sizeable donation to the athletic department 3 years ago, offsetting the installation costs. Eastern Florida Shore University installed Green 24/7’s Pro-Series synthetic turf for $1,360,000 on both their football and soccer/lacrosse fields. Green 24/7 does offer an Elite-Series synthetic, but it costs just over $1,000,000 for a single field.

Maintenance

One thing Goldberg said that caught Rodriguez by surprise was the maintenance costs associated with synthetic turf. When she spoke to the DreamFields, Inc. salesperson, he made it sound like maintenance on an artificial surface would be minimal, especially when compared to a natural grass field. Grass fields require mowing, fertilizing, weed and pest

 

 

Outdoor Playing Field Surface 3

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control, seeding, aeration, watering, and line painting. O’Toole and his crew are usually out working on the fields 4–5 days a week—maintenance that currently costs the department $30,000–$35,000 per year. This figure includes only maintenance supplies and equipment, not labor. The Dreamfields representative suggested their product costs approxi- mately $5,000 per field to maintain annually. Goldberg said that estimate was on the low side, as he is spending in the neighborhood of $12,000 to $14,000 annually to maintain EFSU’s new fields.

Goldberg’s numbers seemed fairly accurate to Acker, Rodriguez’s turf specialist consulting on the project. Whereas natural grass fields are like living organisms requiring regular maintenance, synthetic surfaces must be maintained to avoid unnecessary wear and tear. As Acker explained, third-generation synthetic surfaces use a crumb rubber infill to create a resilient surface that has a consistent feel across the field (Synthetic Turf Council, n.d.). The infill can become compacted with heavy use and the rubber granules can harden if they mix with surrounding clay and dirt, something that can occur after heavy winds and rain. To reduce compaction and extend the life of the field, Acker recommends regular grooming, which involves brushing the field to redistribute compacted infill. For severely compacted fields, an aeration tine may be necessary, in which high-pressure air is blasted into the surface to loosen the rubber granules (Steinbach, 2014). Additional maintenance issues include periodically adding additional infill, minor tear repairs, disinfecting the field when it comes in contact with bodily fluids (i.e., blood), removing foreign debris, and even watering the field on extremely hot days to cool the playing surface (SportsTurf Managers Association, n.d.b).

There will be some start-up equipment costs if Rodriguez opts for a synthetic surface, expenses she would not have if SSU continued with natural grass fields. O’Toole already has a utility cart, but grooming and cleaning equip- ment, as well a vacuum and field magnet to remove debris, will likely run upwards of $5,000. Even though this is a costly expense, Acker agrees with Goldberg that Rodriguez can expect to trim the annual field maintenance budget by roughly 50–60% going the synthetic route.

Durability

Aside from cost, surface durability is among Rodriguez’s chief concerns. Despite O’Toole’s best efforts over the summer months, the fields deteriorate very quickly once the fall semester begins. According to O’Toole, poor drainage and overuse are the primary culprits. One soccer game on a drenched field is enough to cause significant damage (Miller, 2010). O’Toole estimates the fields logged 1,600 hr of use last year. That is inclusive of games, practices, intramurals, university events, and summer camps. Regardless of drainage rates, Acker says any grass field is going to struggle to hold up under those conditions, especially if the field is wet (Miller, 2010).

Everything Rodriguez has read indicates a synthetic surface is going to hold up much better under constant use than natural grass (City of San Diego, 2011; FieldTurf, n.d.; Simon, 2010; SportsTurf Managers Association, n.d.b; Turfgrass Producers International, n.d.). The Synthetic Turf Council (n.d.) states that artificial fields can withstand 3,000 hr of use each year no matter the weather conditions. It is for this reason Acker is a proponent of synthetic fields. He said most synthetic turf providers offer an 8- to 10-year warranty. In his experience, most fields last that long, some even longer, provided they are properly maintained.

The warranty was something Goldberg and EFSU’s legal team went through thoroughly before settling on Green 24/7. Their warranty is for 8 years and only covers manufacturing defects, installation-related issues, drainage, and surface firmness. Any issues arising from weather, vandalism, improper cleaning, improper maintenance, or improper equipment are not covered and can actually void the warranty. For example, Goldberg noted metal spikes or any cleat longer than half an inch are not permitted on the field. The grounds crew is also required to keep a maintenance log and follow Green 24/7’s maintenance protocol for the life of the warranty. Acker added that most synthetic turf warranties also prohibit food, tobacco, cigarettes, and chewing gum from being consumed on or near the field.

Rodriguez is somewhat familiar with the complex nature of synthetic turf warranties. A few months ago, Rodriguez met with Sturgis Winslow, the athletic director at Shoreline Preparatory Academy, a local private high school. Shoreline replaced their football field 4 years ago, opting for a synthetic field installed by NeverMow, a discount turf provider. Winslow said cost was the biggest factor in his decision to choose NeverMow, as they were able to replace the field for $300,000. The school raised funds through private gifts, and sold naming rights to the field to a dental practice owned by an alumnus. The field also came with a 15-year warranty.

 

 

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After two full seasons of year-round use (football, boys and girls soccer, track and field, and marching band), Shoreline’s field began to show wear. The manufacturer repaired a few minor tears and holes around the seams, but over the last year, more seams are coming undone and the turf blades in high traffic areas of the field are beginning to deteriorate. Winslow sought a replacement field under the warranty, but NeverMow said the warranty had been voided when the golf team held practices on the field when the driving range at their home course was being renovated in the fall. Shoreline is challenging NeverMow’s claim in court, but for the time being, the school’s field is in a state of disrepair and Winslow is not confident he can secure another half a million dollars in funding to replace the field with an upgraded product.

Winslow told Rodriguez his biggest regret was focusing solely on the financial side of the decision. Colleagues at other schools warned him that low-end synthetic turf products have a much shorter life than advertised. Durability and drainage are two things he wished he had researched more. The NeverMow field was never quite level, even shortly after installation, and it held water in shallow pockets during and after heavy rains. The two products Rodriguez is considering, Dreamfields, Inc. and Green 24/7, both advertise their fields will drain at a rate of 10 inches per hour, which is consistent with the sand-based grass field estimate Acker provided. Even so, any natural grass surface is going to require weather-based restrictions and creative scheduling and management solutions to ensure the longevity of the fields, which is a challenge not present should Rodriguez opt for a synthetic surface.

Player Safety

Upon hearing about the possibility of new athletic fields, SSU’s head athletic trainer, Desiree Robinson, scheduled a meeting to talk with Rodriguez about safety concerns she had with artificial turf. Prior to coming to SSU, Robinson worked for 4 years with a semi-pro soccer team who practiced and played their home games exclusively on a synthetic field. While there, she regularly treated ankle and knee injuries that seemed to occur with more frequency at home than on road matches played on natural grass. After the meeting, Robinson emailed Rodriguez a study conducted by researchers from Stanford University that found the rate of ACL injuries among NCAA football players was significantly greater on artificial turf than natural grass surfaces, with 90% of ACL injuries in the sample occurring on third-generation infill fields (Dragoo, Braun, & Harris, 2013). Concerns over player safety were the impetus behind SSU administration’s decision to increase the athletic department’s budget to replace the existing fields; therefore, Rodriguez decided to research this issue herself so she could make a more informed decision.

She came across two studies indicating ankle injuries were more common on artificial surfaces as opposed to grass (Ekstrand, Hägglund, & Fuller, 2011; Williams, Hume, & Kara, 2011), and one from the American Journal of Sports Medicine suggesting a correlation between concussions and artificial surfaces, although the sample size was small (Guskiewicz, Weaver, Padua, & Garrett, 2000). Another study looked at knee and ankle injuries among NFL players from 2000 to 2009, and found a significantly higher incidence of ACL sprains and eversion ankle sprains on artificial turf compared to natural grass (Hershman et al., 2012). Conversely, Almutawa, Scott, George, and Drust (2014) found injury rates were higher on grass than third-generation synthetic surfaces among members of the Saudi National Foot- ball (soccer) Team. By and large, however, most of the articles that Rodriguez came across suggested essentially no difference between artificial and natural grass surfaces in terms of injury risk (Aoki et al., 2010; Ekstrand et al., 2011; Fuller, Dick, Corlette, & Schmalz, 2007; Soligard, Bahr, & Andersen, 2012; State of New York Department of Health, 2008; Williams et al., 2011).

Rodriguez asked Acker about the risk of injury associated with the different surfaces, and he said it is really dif- ficult to say definitively that one surface causes more injuries than the other because or variations in shoe and cleat type, player skill level, prior injury history, individual physical characteristics, the presence of field moisture, and the time in the game when the injury occurred (Balazs et al., 2014; State of New York Department of Health, 2008). He did say, though, that heat-related issues are a concern with synthetic fields. In his experience, synthetic turf fields are much hotter than natural grass fields because they absorb heat (State of New York Department of Health, 2008; Turfgrass Producers International, 2010). Acker recalled a study conducted at the University of Missouri showing a 68-degree surface temperature difference between synthetic and natural surfaces. On a 98-degree day, the field-level tempera- ture of the synthetic surface was 173 degrees, compared to 105 degrees on the natural grass field (Adamson, 2005).

 

 

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A similar study was conducted at BYU where average surface temperatures for synthetic fields were 117 degrees, 39 degrees warmer than the average natural grass surface temperature (Williams & Pulley, 2002). Acker said that watering synthetic fields has been shown to reduce surface temperatures, but the fields do begin to warm up again rather quickly (Serensits, McNitt, & Petrunak, 2011).

In her research, Rodriguez also came across a few articles discussing potentially hazardous effects of synthetic surfaces caused by the chemicals used in tires, which are recycled for use in crumb rubber infill fields. Tires contain a host of metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) that could poten- tially enter the body through skin abrasions or inhalation (Simon, 2010). An NBC News story even drew an anecdotal correlation between playing on artificial turf and cancer after a University of Washington soccer coach identified 38 soccer players who had been diagnosed with cancer after playing on artificial turf fields (Rappleye, 2014). Most of what Rodriguez read, though, seems to suggest that while carcinogens, metals, and VOCs are present in crumb rubber, the health risks of playing on crumb rubber infill surfaces are minimal (Beausoleil, Price, & Muller, 2009; California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, 2010; Pavilonis, Weisel, Buckley, & Lioy, 2013; Simon, 2010). A study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency did find traces of metals and VOCs in a very limited sampling of synthetic surfaces; however, the presence of components analyzed were “below levels of concern” (Environmental Protection Agency, 2009, p. vi).

There are alternative options to crumb rubber infill, but they add to the overall cost of the project. One of Acker’s previous clients went with a plastic infill substitute, and a few others have opted for an organic infill material. Both eliminate any risk posed by potentially hazardous chemicals present in crumb rubber, but they do have drawbacks of their own, most notably cost (Charwick, 2014). Acker estimates a plastic infill will add $300,000 to the overall project cost for both fields. The organic infill could be double that.

Preference

For the most part, student-athletes and coaches at SSU are in favor of a synthetic field. The players love road games at EFSU, citing how consistent the field plays compared to their home surface and how “cool” the artificial field looks with the EFSU logo in the middle. Even the coaches are attracted to the aesthetic appeal of the artificial surface. The lacrosse coach says a pristine artificial field will really help with recruiting, as it will create a lasting impression in the minds of prospective student-athletes. The women’s soccer coach was more concerned with how the field plays. For her, if intramurals are going to use the fields in addition to athletics, the new fields need to be able to withstand the constant use. Divots (torn-up pieces of turf) and uneven play wreak havoc on a soccer game.

Rodriguez was surprised to learn that her student-athletes and coaches felt this way. From what she read, it seems players preferred a natural grass field. For example, a 2010 survey of National Football League players indicated 69.4% of players preferred playing on natural grass. Perhaps more importantly, 82.4% of players felt an artificial turf field was more likely to contribute to injuries, 89.1% said playing on artificial fields led to more soreness and fatigue, and 89.7% think artificial fields are more likely than natural grass to shorten their careers (NFL Players Association, 2010). These perceptions are not limited to football players. Elite soccer players have also expressed concerns over playing on artificial turf (Andersson, Ekblom, & Krustrup, 2008; Geier, 2014). The University of Minnesota even had to temporarily install sod on top of their synthetic football field prior to an exhibition soccer game played by European league champions at TCF Bank Stadium in 2014. The cumulative effect of artificial turf on the legs of players over the course of a game was cited as the primary reason for installing the natural surface (Sheild, 2014).

Conclusion

Emily Rodriguez has a tough decision to make. Sunshine State University’s existing fields need to be replaced, but several factors must be taken into consideration when deciding on the new surface. The athletic department did receive a one- time budget increase from the university to help pay for the fields, and Rodriguez is confident another $150,000 can be raised through fundraising efforts, but cost is still a concern—in terms of both field installation and maintenance. At a school like SSU, revenues will never outweigh expenses in this decision. If finances were the only concern, Rodriguez’s

 

 

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choice would be easy. A natural grass surface with native soil is the cheapest option in the short term and the long term. Unfortunately, as Rodriguez learned from Shoreline’s Athletic Director Sturgis Winslow, making a decision like this based solely on cost is probably not the best approach. Beyond cost, Rodriguez must also consider how well the new surfaces will hold up given the number of hours the fields will be in use, as well as the maintenance considerations necessary to extend the life of the fields. Player safety and player preference must also factor into Rodriguez’s decision. Clearly, there are advantages and disadvantages to each surface. Rodriguez has consulted with experts, sought advice from peers, spoken with coaches and players, and conducted research on her own. She has heard from representatives of Green 24/7 and DreamFields, Inc., as well as her own director of grounds, who has suggested sticking with natural grass, but with a new subterranean base and drainage system installed. Now she must decide: natural grass or synthetic turf?

Discussion Questions

1. Make a list of all the factors Rodriguez needs to consider in this case. Which of these factors are the most important for an NCAA Division-II athletic department? Why?

2. Would it be beneficial for Rodriguez to hold a meeting with current stakeholders to gather their input on this decision? What are the benefits and drawbacks of holding such a meeting? Who should be invited to this meeting? What case would each of those individuals make? Do certain perspectives carry more weight than others? Why?

3. If Rodriguez opts for natural grass, what strategies could she employ to reduce the wear and tear on the field, aside from limiting the number of hours the field is in use?

4. Conduct a 10-year cost–benefit analysis for the fields. In your analysis, be sure to include installation costs, annual maintenance costs, and equipment costs. Which surface provides a better long-term value from a financial perspective? Conduct a 20-year cost–benefit analysis. Assume costs remain the same, but you must now account for a replacement synthetic field after 10 years. Which surface provides a better financial value after 20 years?

5. What additional information would Rodriguez want/need prior to making this decision?

6. What surface should Rodriguez choose to install at SSU? What are the two most significant factors that contributed to your decision? Once a surface is selected, decide on a specific product. Justify your selection, both for the surface and product choices.

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