IU Athletics Director Fred Glass has tried to make investment in his football program a priority since his arrival in 2009. He has overseen the completion of the North End Zone facility and added, among other amenities, a new high-definition scoreboard to one end of Memorial Stadium.
Friday, Indiana’s latest investment finally took physical form, when ground broke on a new artificial turf practice field just outside Mellencamp Pavilion. The turf set-up will replace the natural grass field closest to Mellencamp, just north of Memorial Stadium.
Glass said the project is one he and IU coach Kevin Wilson considered a high priority this summer.
“Kevin and I have sat down and tried to chart out a variety of projects we wanted to do,” Glass said by phone Friday afternoon. “I consider this a real player-focused project. I think it’ll be better, safer, more versatile for them.
“Just in the scheme of things that we planned to do, this seemed like the most appropriate one and the highest-priority one.”
The overall project will cost $600,000, and it also includes the reseeding and sprigging of the football program’s other practice field, a process which Glass said will better fortify it against regular use. According to Glass, “the money’s been all raised,” and the project isn’t expected to draw further funds out of the athletics budget.
Glass offered several reasons for the move:
*The artificial turf field is expected to better hold up not just to regular use by the football program, but also to inclement weather, giving the program a more reliable practice surface later in the season.
*Because Mellencamp Pavilion often shades the natural grass field that’s being replaced, Glass said it has been hard to promote and sustain regular growth there.
*Installing the same FieldTurf product that currently surfaces the Memorial Stadium field, Glass said Indiana will be able to mirror as closely as possible the same rubber/sand mixture on the new practice field.
When an artificial turf surface is installed, a mixture of rubber and sand is injected into the turf itself. That mixture can be altered proportionally, giving the field a softer or harder eventual feel. The mixture injected into the new practice field will be copied after what is already laid down at Memorial Stadium.
“We’re using the same vendor” that installed the Memorial Stadium field, Glass said, “and it will be, as best we can, an exact replica of what we have at Memorial Stadium.”
*According to Glass, having an all-weather surface so close to Mellencamp — which is shared by several athletic programs in the winter — will allow some of Indiana’s other teams to better use the outdoor field, when the football program doesn’t need it.
“With artificial turf, it will enable us to let other programs use that field in a way that they weren’t able to before,” Glass said.
Glass said the department hasn’t done any cost analysis to determine whether the switch to artificial turf would save a significant amount of money on field maintenance long-term, but he does expect a small positive impact eventually.
“I can’t tell you that it’s a huge number or that we’ve quantified it,” Glass said.
Construction is expected to last the course of the summer, and the contractor installing the new field has committed to having it in place by Aug. 3, for fall camp. Indiana opens practice for the coming season Aug. 2.
Overall, Glass said he believes the new field continues to “demonstrate an ongoing commitment to our football program so that every year, there’s a substantial commitment to football.”