Eastern Washington installing red turf

CHENEY, Wash. -- The nicknames are already flying and Eastern Washington University hasn't even begun installing its new artificial turf.

The Slaughterhouse. The Blood Rug. The Bordello Bowl.

Athletic director Bill Chaves was seeking attention last month and sure got it when he announced that the turf would be red.

"The uniqueness of the red field was able to generate an amazing amount of publicity," Chaves said.

It also has generated donations. Michael Roos, an Eastern Washington alumnus who is a lineman for the NFL's Tennessee Titans, kicked the drive off with a $500,000 donation. ESPN broadcaster Colin Cowherd, also an EWU graduate, threw in $50,000.

Money continues to pour in toward the $1 million needed to roll out the red carpet on Sept. 18 against Montana.

Eastern Washington, located in this suburb outside Spokane, has long been a successful FCS program in the Big Sky Conference. But the Eagles have never gotten much national recognition, or even that much local attention. Attendance is usually around 5,000 for football games at Woodward Field, a tiny stadium on the edge of town that is surrounded by wheat fields.

The best-known artificial turf in the nation is the blue field at Boise State, and Chaves was visiting that campus last July when the red light bulb went off in his head.

"It was the middle of July and people were coming with cameras," Chaves said. "It was like a scene out of 'Field of Dreams.' You lay it down and people will come."

The battered natural grass at Woodward Field was due to be replaced by artificial turf. Chaves saw no reason the field couldn't reflect the team's red and white colors.

Artificial turf comes in many colors, but typically they are used in end zones and midfield logos. Boise State has been the notable exception since Georgia-based FieldTurf laid down the Broncos' all-blue field 23 years ago, and the University of New Haven followed suit with blue turf last year.

FieldTurf, the biggest supplier of artificial turf, is talking to a couple of colleges about colored turf, but said there is no rush to use colors other than green. Company spokesman John Belanger, who declined to name the schools because the deals were not complete, says that using different colors does not appear to hurt performance.

If fundraising remains on track, Eastern will begin installing its red turf in June and play its first game on the field against archrival Montana on Sept. 18.

The concept isn't popular in the Grizzlies' hometown. The Missoulian newspaper editorialized for a ban on non-green turf.

"We are hidebound traditionalists," the editorial said. "And we know that red fades in the sun. What is EWU going to do when faced with a pink football field? And what if there is a major injury on the field? How will we see how much blood the player lost?"

Chaves said he has been assured the turf will not fade to pink, although it will turn a lighter shade of red over time.

The Big Sky Conference has no objections.

"Just as long as the field remains regulation size we see no problem," said Tanner Gooch, a league spokesman in Salt Lake City.

Boosters say the red turf is actually a green idea. Replacing the natural grass will allow EWU to save an estimated 300,000 gallons of water per year.

There are other issues to consider. Eastern has made the FCS playoffs four times in the past six years, and nobody wants a strange field to mess with that record of success. There's also a question of how the red will appear on television.

Will the players in red jerseys get lost in the background? Will the brown football blend in when it is thrown? Will uniforms get red stains?

Good questions all, with no immediate answers. But Chaves is motivated by a desire to get more fans in the seats.

"If it takes something unique to get folks out of Spokane, this might be the spur that gets them out there," he said.

Eastern football coach Beau Baldwin sees one important advantage in the red rug.

"It's huge for recruiting because potential student-athletes can see the progress we are making and the positive direction of our program," he said. "It's bound to bring more exposure."