STATESBORO — Already the subject of a major expansion before the 2014 season, another substantial change could be coming to Paulson Stadium in the near future.
Georgia Southern is currently seeking funding to replace the current grass of Glenn Bryant Field with an artificial playing surface. As has been addressed at multiple coaching caravan stops over the last few weeks, a new playing field is coming sooner rather than later — perhaps as soon as the 2016 season.
“It’s something that we’ve addressed and that we’re heading towards,” Georgia Southern Athletic Director Tom Kleinlein said. “We’re still waiting on everything to come in to work out the specifics.”
Among the chief factors in the proposed switch to an artificial playing surface is the cost involved. Although each field is different and going the artificial route involves a large up-front cost, most see the move as a money saver.
The cost for replacing the field at Paulson Stadium with an artificial surface would likely start in the high six-figures — possibly cracking the million-dollar mark — but with more companies now manufacturing playing fields and with the necessary technology well into a new generation, the performance and durability of fields are quickly growing.
Current Sun Belt Conference rival Louisiana-Lafayette made the switch to artificial turf ahead of the 2008 season. The Ragin’ Cajuns have been largely pleased with the decision and their rationale for the change mirrors some concerns that Georgia Southern could be dealing with.
“We don’t have any complaints,” ULL Associate Athletic Director for Internal Operations John Dugas said. “Since installing the field (in 2008) there have been very few issues. We’re only just now having to touch up some of the paint to make the field look its best.”
Dugas addressed the large upfront cost, but added that current maintenance levels average between $3,500-$5,500 per year.
“When we looked at the estimates, it made more sense to pay the initial cost. After that, the yearly upkeep cost is much less than having to address painting and field health issues that you face with natural grass.”
According to Dugas, the field at UL Lafayette receives an annual “grooming” and that a strict adherence to the manufacturer’s directions on how to handle machinery and heavy equipment on the field has the surface still performing at a near-new level.
It is still unclear what — if any — additional non-football related events an artificially-surfaced Paulson Stadium could host. Kleinlein stated that more information could be available once the installation has been finalized.
Like the bayou of Louisiana, the summer and early fall in Statesboro can lead to heavy rains and slowly draining fields. Add to that a few dozen 200- and 300-pound athletes running around, and things can get messy in a hurry.
An artificial surface at Paulson Stadium would be able to take hard practicing in bad weather all week long before looking good as new for a Saturday game. Additionally, with the team’s locker rooms and meeting rooms now located at the Ted Smith Family Football Center, the team would save plenty of travel time in waiting out weather delays during the week as transporting players and equipment all the way across campus to the current practice fields would no longer be necessary.
Another huge perceived advantage to an artificial field is the look.
Image is certainly something that Georgia Southern cares about. The Paulson Stadium additions from last season took into account the ease of setting up for television broadcasts and increased lighting for the field was used to ensure a good look for the Eagles’ Thursday night ESPNU games last year.
Adding a playing surface that always has yard markers and logos looking their freshest is another way for the program to put its best foot forward anytime the television cameras come to town.
“It’s been great for improving the image of our stadium,” Dugas said. “The more you think about it, the more that the constant cost of maintaining grass is something for schools with far bigger budgets to worry about.”
One final benefit to an artificial surface is what it can provide for teams outside of Georgia Southern.
As showcased a pair of high school games in each of the last three seasons. The event has been a success so far, with proceeds benefitting the Eagle Football Alumni Association and helping to fund the Erk Russell Scholarship.
“Having four games was part of the original plan,” event organizer and former Eagle football player Darryl Hopkins said. “So far, we’ve limited it to two games because we want the field to look good when Georgia Southern starts playing. With an artificial surface, you don’t have those concerns. It can make the event bigger and bring in more money that will help the (Georgia Southern) program.”