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Oregon heads in new direction with FieldTurf.

Byline: BOB CLARK The Register-Guard

Acknowledging it made the wrong choice a year ago in choosing a new playing surface for Autzen Stadium, the University of Oregon announced Thursday a different artificial turf will be installed this summer as part of the stadium expansion project.

In contrast to a year ago when the Ducks selected NeXturf partly to be different than other schools, Oregon has chosen now to go with the more popular and widely utilized FieldTurf, the surface used at both Husky Stadium in Seattle and Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash.

The cost of changing turf will cost `between $800,000 and $900,000,' UO director of athletics Bill Moos said. That amount includes both the purchase of the FieldTurf and what the athletic department will pay for site preparation for an on-campus facility, where the NeXturf will be used after its one season at Autzen Stadium.

`It basically was not meeting our needs for intercollegiate football,' Moos said. He added that UO players `would tell you ... the only problem with NeXturf is it didn't have a degree of consistency (for footing) in different types of weather conditions.'

From the time the NeXturf was installed in the summer, UO players voiced mild concerns that they weren't as sure in their footing as they had been with other surfaces, including the OmniTurf that had worn down after 10 seasons. They were optimistic that they would adjust to the surface, but needed to test different styles of shoes to find the correct ones for the field and the weather conditions.

UO coach Mike Bellotti said throughout the season, when questions about the footing were raised, that his team was adjusting and learning which shoes needed to be worn, depending on the playing conditions. Bellotti wasn't available for comment Thursday when the turf change was announced, but a week ago declined comment on the subject of a possible turf replacement.

While Oregon's decision to switch to FieldTurf would seem likely to be used against NeXturf in marketing, Moos said officials of Southwest Recreational Industries, the parent company of NeXturf, had been `wonderful to work with. They were very understanding of our concerns.'

Jim Savoca, executive vice president of Southwest Recreational Industries, said in a statement released by the firm that `We are disappointed that wet traction became an issue during the season ... teams in more moderate climates have not had to deal with any real traction issues. NeXturf II is in development, and we strongly believe we will overcome this issue with the next generation of our premier playing surface.'

When Oregon purchased the turf a year ago, the only site it was being used at was in the indoor practice facility of the Atlanta Falcons. In addition to Autzen Stadium, NeXturf was installed and used last fall at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, the home of the Eagles, and PGE Park in Portland, where Portland State plays football. Oregon will thus be back on NeXturf at least one more time, with its April 27 spring game scheduled for the Portland facility.

Oregon's NeXturf, which was taken out of Autzen so that it wasn't damaged during construction and is currently being stored at a site in the state of Washington, will be donated to the university's department of Physical Activity and Recreation Services (PARS) and used on a multi-purpose student recreation field to be built just to the south of a field with artificial turf that is located between Hayward Field and the Student Recreation Center on 15th Avenue.

In addition to the donation of the NeXturf, which the university said a year ago cost $1.35 million including site preparation, the athletic department will pay for all preparation work for the on-campus field. The field will be used for intramural and club sports as well as physical education classes.

Moos said if there hadn't been the stadium expansion project, the NeXturf would have remained in use at Autzen Stadium. But because it was already out, providing `this window of opportunity' to combine with the desire of PARS to have a second artificial turf field, `we were able to come out of this with a win-win deal,' Moos said.

Also considered was putting the NeXturf into the Moshofsky Center, which has a different brand of artificial surface. Moos said, however, that in addition to wanting to provide the field for PARS, the use of the Moshofsky for pregame functions would have raised potential problems with cleaning the NeXturf surface because it has rubber granules in the fibers.

Not selecting FieldTurf a year ago was somewhat of a surprise, both based on the fact Oregon had tested that playing surface in a December 1999 trip to Nike headquarters in Beaverton, where there is a workout facility with FieldTurf, and the Ducks had played at WSU's Martin Stadium in 2000 and liked the footing on the FieldTurf. In addition, FieldTurf uses a product called Nike Grind as the granules between its fibers, and Oregon's connections to Nike and its leader Phil Knight are well-known.

Moos said the FieldTurf can be laid down on the subsurface already in place at Autzen Stadium, which also lessened the cost of replacing the surface at this time.

`Our players have liked their experience on the FieldTurf at Washington State (where Oregon also played in 2001), where both times it was in adverse conditions and the footing held up fine,' Moos said.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 22, 2002
Previous Article:Beavers remain optimistic after loss to Huskies.
Next Article:Ducks head to Mountain Pacific Championships.

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