It might be the off-season when you decide to write about artificial grass. You know it's the off-season when your story about artificial grass includes a short discussion about why that grass is probably the wrong color. Confused? I can help with that.
Didn't we just get new turf two years ago?
Yes, yes we did. As part of the agreement with the Vikings, new field turf was installed at TCF Bank Stadium prior to the 2014 season. This was done to allow the addition of heating coils under the field as well as to make sure the design of the field allowed for complete transitions between Gophers/NCAA and Vikings/NFL markings and logos. All of these changes were paid for by the Vikings.
The reason we're getting a new set of turf now is that it was also a condition of the agreement with the Vikings. The agreement the University and the Vikings signed also specified that at the end of the stadium sharing period, new turf that met the Gophers specifications would be installed (again, paid for by the Vikings). Hooray for free things!
What does the new turf look like?
Here's what the install of the turf looked like:
The turf at TCF Bank Stadium is just about all stripped. #Gophers pic.twitter.com/epxh4J7u6R— Matt Jessen-Howard (@mjessenhoward) April 15, 2016
The Gopher Football turf will be fresh for the 2016 season. It's time to get that new surface installed. #Gophers pic.twitter.com/tzgm62iBMu— Morgan Liggett (@MorganLiggett) April 14, 2016
And here's the final product:
New turf is down! Getting back to the basics. Home sweet home pic.twitter.com/AwxTbNyMCM— Jeffrey Phelps (@PhelpsDLCoach) May 1, 2016
New turf is almost complete! Beautiful day on the campus of The University of Minnesota! #Gophers pic.twitter.com/7SpZEbSAS1— William Glasscock (@BillyGlasscock4) April 20, 2016
That looks different than the old pre-Vikes turf...
Good memory faithful reader! This is what the old turf looked like:
The new turf lacks background color in the end zones and does not have "stitched in" yardage markings, hash marks, or logos beyond the Block M at midfield. The white boundary markings around the field are also less prominent than they were prior to 2014.
Why the change? Is that what the U wanted?
It's not a contracting error or anything. Per the Minnesota Football Twitter account, this is the field design they wanted:
@Pengy65 @bgoetz12 Endzones will be green. Minnesota will be Gold as you have seen, outlined in Maroon.— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) May 2, 2016
As to why, until two days ago all I had was speculation. The most interesting change to me was the lack of field markings other than the boundaries. Since the University is no longer sharing this field with the Vikings, there wouldn't seem to be any reason to avoid "stitched in" yard markings and hash marks. That was confusing me until I read this series of tweets from #Gophers Twitter (including a logical answer from our own gopherguy05):
Looking at the photos of the new turf going in, anybody else really happy to see the temporary bleachers gone from TCF?— Kyle Jones (@jonsie00) May 2, 2016
@jonsie00 Disappointed in the generic end zones again though.— Kevin Z (@KevinZintheTC) May 2, 2016
@KevinZintheTC meh, doesn't bug me that much. Just will be nice to have that end zone open again— Kyle Jones (@jonsie00) May 2, 2016
@jonsie00 @KevinZintheTC They left it generic because of the high potential of MN United having to play a year at TCF.— Andy York (@yorka1982) May 2, 2016
@jonsie00 @KevinZintheTC its also why no sewn in yard lines/logos— Andy York (@yorka1982) May 2, 2016
The immediate question (raised by Kevin Z in another tweet) is if this is true, is there an intention to go back to the "bolder" endzones with color in the future. Thankfully, Joe Christensen from the STrib is on the case. He reconfirmed yesterday that Minnesota United is looking at TCF Bank Stadium as a potential home for their first year in MLS and that the U has kept the field free of permanent markings on purpose in an attempt to make the field viable for multipurpose use. Here's what senior associate athletics director Chris Werle had to say about it:
"We finished the field ahead of schedule," Werle said. "We're waiting for some materials to come, and then we'll put the football lines down."
The football lines are expected to be painted onto the field in about two weeks. But why not have the football field permanently etched into the turf, as it was before?
"I think we've found since we've been here that this is a great multi-use stadium," Werle said. "We want the option to hold different events in there."
Based on that response, it certainly seems to me like the the U intends for this to be the design moving forward. It's not expressly stated that they'd keep it this way forever but that's the only reasonable conclusion I can draw from Werle's remarks. I'm not sure I can see them spending $1 million plus on a new set of turf in a year or two just because United is in their new stadium. Then again, it's possible they could simply stitch in the new end zones and field lines for less cost once the MLS is out of the picture. I guess we'll have to see.
What's the impact?
Is this a big deal? Not really. I'm not saying I like the change and while I much prefer a solid maroon endzone background, I got used to the version they had when the Vikings were there pretty quickly. The Block M is stitched in, which is important in my opinion because the painted one always looked faded and kinda crappy. I've already seen complaining on the Gopher 'nets that far outstrips the actual impact of the change, mostly of the "THIS IS OUR STADIUM WHO CARES ABOUT THE OTHER SPORTS OUT THERE" variety. I get that to a point, but other than the endzone background you're only talking about painted yard lines (which are a non-issue).
The one thing I did notice that I do care more about is the fact that it looks like spots where there used to be trees on the interior plaza on the open end have been filled in with concrete. I really (REALLY) hope the U intends to break up that concrete and replant the trees. It's a minor detail to be sure, but it was also one of my favorite small details about the stadium.