The sport of soccer loves their grass, there's nothing better than a freshly cut pitch to a footie aficionado. However, despite amazing advancements in artificial turf technology, the soccer oligarchy still turns it's nose up at the use of it at the highest levels. There are some artificial turf companies (mostly in Europe) that manufacture artificial surfaces that meet the standards of FIFA and can be labeled 'FIFA Approved' However even FIFA does not allow the 'FIFA approved' surfaces to be used for their highest levels of competition (World Cup, etc.). FIFA approved artificial surfaces are typically regulated to U-19 tournaments and qualifying matches, or for use in countries that have trouble maintaining grass fields due to climate (I.e. Greenland, the Middle East, etc.).
So last week when Richmond announced they were dropping Men's Soccer and adding Men's Lacrosse there was an interesting footnote to the decision, A.D. Jim Miller stating that the lack of a grass field for Men's Soccer contributed to the decision. Now how much did the lack of a grass playing field really play into the decision to drop soccer, which currently competes in Richmond's field turf surfaced football stadium, we may never know. I would venture to guess that at the end of the day the Richmond Men's Soccer team would likely play their home games in a parking lot if it meant saving their program. But regardless, the fact that it was a talking point for Miller is something to look at. While soccer's grass obsession is strong internationally, in football obsessed America it has not made as many inroads. True many of Division I's soccer powers do play on natural grass surfaces, however there are also many soccer powers that play on artificial turf surfaces such as B.C., B.U., St.John's, and Brown (BC and Brown have 'FIFA approved' surfaces).
But regardless the constant underlying preference of grass is there, and in this case appears to have backfired in giving the Richmond administration more ammunition and just another reason to state publicly as to why they were cutting the sport. Putting too much emphasis on a sports playing surface, unless you are Football or Basketball, does not help a sports growth. Division I Field Hockeys growth is stagnant because of the sports obsession with playing only on astroturf, despite that fact that all other Divisions, plus high school play on grass. A.D.s do not want to add a sport that requires a playing surfaces that no other sport in America desires to play on, is the most injury prone, and is the most expensive per square foot of all the different types of artificial surfaces. The University of Rhode Island, the last university with a DI Field Hockey program to play on grass, dropped their program six years ago because they could not afford to install astroturf, and decided they would rather have no program at all then have one with the stigma of playing on grass. This is an extreme example, but an example nevertheless of how a sports rigid approach to playing surfaces can backfire.
Lacrosse on the other hand can, and has been played on, just about any surface. While astroturf lacrosse fields have become more rare recently (Cornell, Syracuse, and Holy Cross all went to Field Turf in recent years) there are still some schools (Quinnipiac) that use it as their home surface. Beyond astroturf, it's probably a toss up between grass and Field Turf for lacrosse facilities, with more southern schools likely preferring grass due to the favorable climate.
At the end of the day what it comes down to is lacrosse is flexible, everyone who loves this game just wants it to grow, and we are in no position to be picky about playing surface. In college athletics King Football and Prince Basketball run the show, and for this reason sports that are easily adaptable to football and basketball facilities are perceived as more favorable in the eyes of athletic directors when they consider adding sports. For lacrosse just throw some lines down on that football field and we are good to go. And there is a reason why Women's Volleyball is one of the most popular women's sport in the NCAA...lay some lines down on your basketball court and you've got a volleyball home venue. Easy and cheap.
So as our sport continues to grow and Universities continue to add it be thankful that lacrosse is such a versatile sport that can be played on so many different types of surfaces, even if it is a parking lot.
Tuesday, October 02, 2012 1 comment