SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The news of Notre Dame Stadium replacing its playing surface was met in the locker room with nearly unanimous approval. The players, of course, are the ones who are affected most by such a decision. Take KeiVarae Russell, a cornerback who must rely on the ground beneath him as much as anyone else on the field.
"We played USC last year -- that field was terrible. Oh-my-God," the outspoken junior cracked. "I'm excited."
Added quarterback Everett Golson, who was sacked at least once in Saturday's spring game because he lost his footing: "It's nice. It's nice. Because I came from FieldTurf, even in high school. So it's going to be a joy, man."
But the decision was hardly that simple, given the history and tradition that follows the Irish football program at nearly every turn. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick, a 1976 graduate of the school, knew this better than most, which is why he spent much of the last two months explaining to others in leadership positions at the school why he decided that the move from natural grass to FieldTurf was the best way to go for the future.
Swarbrick arrived at the decision in late February. He said that the underwhelming surface that the Blue-Gold game was played on reflected the best condition maintenance could possibly get the field in for game time. Notre Dame replaced its surface four times last year, he said -- after commencement, in July and twice in the season.
"It's probably more a personal preference than sort of an athletic department preference," Swarbrick said of natural grass. "I like it. I'm an alum here. It's part of the dynamic of the place, and so I was inclined to say, Can we do it? And some of the other iconic stadiums have held onto it: Green Bay, the Rose Bowl. And so both of those things played a role. But we just couldn't get ourselves there."
Swarbrick said there have yet to be discussions about any possible logos or marks on the field, but that he would not anticipate any major changes. The FieldTurf's color, for the curious eccentrics out there, will be green.
The news, along with the winter announcement of the Campus Crossroads Project to expand the stadium's use, could result in more non-football events, with Swarbrick specifically mentioning a hockey game.
"Everybody is in agreement; if we can get the best surface there and grass, we'd love to have that," coach Brian Kelly said after the spring game. "We just haven't been able to get to that. This is my fifth year here at Notre Dame and we haven't been able to get to that. This is the best option available to us, and I'm happy that Jack Swarbrick, our athletic director, our administration, has acted and we are going to have that playing field in place for the fall so we don't have to have those concerns going into 2014."