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SALT LAKE CITY — The turf field at Rice-Eccles Stadium has become prematurely worn years before University of Utah officials expected, forcing a quick replacement during the football season.
The most recent FieldTurf product was installed in 2009, and Utes officials told the Deseret News that it was expected to last 15 years when it was installed. The FieldTurf warranty for the field itself lasts for eight years from the installation date, and promises "FieldTurf will ... either repair or replace the affected area without charge" should decay happen before June 2017.
But the University is replacing the field this week, just over six years since the date of installation. While the total cost of the replacement of the field is unknown, the turf's premature deterioration has caused headaches for school administrators.
"The company offered to replace the field at a reduced cost rather than incur the cost of warranty work over the next two years on the current field," Gordon Wilson, the University of Utah's Vice President for Administrative Services, said. "The University accepted the offer and the field replacement will take place before the next home game on Oct. 10."
Utah is not alone in finding decaying turf fields years before the end of their warranty. Kansas's field, also installed in 2009, was replaced this year after deterioration. In 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported on "dozens" of fields that were "flawed" and "now falling apart" from the FieldTurf company.
FieldTurf, for its part, blames Dutch company Royal TenCate for the premature breakdown of the fields, alleging that the grass-like fibers that FieldTurf purchased from TenCate for use in the fields were "made from substandard polymer." According to a lawsuit filed by FieldTurf, at least 167 FieldTurf fields have failed due to prematurely degrading grass fibers.
The field replacement has begun this week and is expected to last about four days. Utah's next home football game is on Oct. 10 against Cal.
One worry for players and coaches is that new turf fields generally take time to "settle in" and provide an optimal surface for play. A spokesman for FieldTurf told ESPN.com in 2010 that "it typically takes a few weeks" for the surface to settle. In its field maintenance manual, FieldTurf says that during the "initial" phase, the grass fibers are upright, and "infill is slightly higher and looser".
That creates a different feel of turf that the Utes' players might not be used to. When the New York Giants took the field on the new turf installed by FieldTurf in New Meadowlands Stadium, they described the field as "slippery." Wide receiver Steve Smith told ESPN.com that, "We were all slipping and stuff."
And safety Antrel Rolle believed that the field was responsible for receiver Domenik Hixon's ACL tear that season, saying of Hixon's injury, "He didn't make a cut or anything. It just got caught in the turf."
"My feet were burning at the bottom of the turf. I was slipping on each and every play," Rolle continued with ESPN.com. "It just didn't feel good to me at all."
Generally, time, play, and weather take their effect on a new turf surface, allowing the field to reach "optimum playing characteristics." But with only three weeks until the Utes play at home next, whether or not the new field will have time to settle is an open question.
According to the statement made by Wilson, "The Athletic Department is fully supportive of the decision and timing of the change."
Contributing: Keith McCord