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AU turf management professor says poor BCSNCG field conditions due to irrigation timing

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Scott McElroy, a professor in the Auburn College of Agriculture’s Department of Turf Management, says his morning blog post on the turf used at University of Phoenix stadium has already “gotten a lot of traction,” something Auburn and Oregon players couldn’t get much of during last week’s national championship game.

Yesterday, in response to several questions his department received from Auburn fans regarding the field’s poor condition, McElroy suggested that noticeable slips and spills during the game resulted from “perennial ryegrass overseeding,” which “can cause a decrease in shear strength as the perennial ryegrass grows and develops and as the seeding density of the ryegrass increases.”

But after talking with two Auburn turf grass researchers who attended this year’s Sports Turf Management Association conference, which was held in Austin, Texas, two days after the championship game, McElroy is now convinced the issue is almost entirely tied to irrigation.

“They ran into a lot of people who had some friends of a friend who knew the setup [at the game],” McElroy said. “What actually happened was… they either irrigated [the field] right before they laid it or irrigated right after the laid it and then closed the dome.”

With the dome closed, McElroy said the resulting humidity had no means of evaporating.

“It couldn’t dry out,” he said. “What happens in thick cut sod is that the soil actually has two layers. There’s a sod layer and a layer beneath and before the water drains through there has to be a [root] bridge between those two layers.”

How long does it take a bridge to form?

“That takes a minimum of three weeks,” McElroy said. “Until then it’s basically like you’ve just got a carpet sitting on top.”

The Oregon-grown turf used in the championship was installed just days before the game.

“That’s what happened, the stuff just didn’t dry out.”

McElroy understands the complaints of Auburn fans who deem the field’s condition partially responsible for the Tigers’ less than stellar offensive showing against Oregon (and who are used to a field that can soak up 3.75″ of rain an hour), but is careful not to place undue blame on the stadium’s grounds crew.

“Surely the field manager probably knew that [the turf would remain wet] but there might not be any fault there, ’cause I’m not sure what the weather conditions there were,” McElroy said. “Things may not have been conducive to them opening the dome or to drying it out or they could have been restricted as far as what goes on before the game. They just might not have been able to do it. I want to make sure I’m not sounding like I’m putting any blame on the field manager.”

When asked if would be purchasing a souvenir piece of turf from the game currently being offered to Auburn fans by Stadium Associates, LLC, he was more definitive.

“No, I won’t be purchasing any,” McElroy said. “I’ve been on some great fields all around the world, so no, I don’t think I’ll be getting any of that.”

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