"The problem with OmniTurf was that it was all sand infill – nothing else," FieldTurf CEO John Gilman told BlueGoldNews.com. "If you just have sand, it will compact over time. It's destined to turn into concrete, and that's what happened."
To combat the compaction problem, Field Turf turned to a mixture of sand and rubber that it has perfected over the years.
"This was an invention by Fred Haas, the uncle of professional golfer Jay Haas," Gilman explained. "We add in rubber that has been frozen and then shattered, in order to make it a certain shape, and then we use particles of sand that are same size. That keeps the sand and rubber mixed in well, and doesn't allow the sand to sift down to the bottom and compact. It's a patented process that we perfected."
The next surface at Mountaineer Field didn't have the sand issues, but the turf was extremely abrasive. That issue has been addressed with the style of the "blades" of artificial grass that FieldTurf uses, which are much softer and more resilient than previous versions.
Finally, the problems with the just-removed AstroPlay surface, which centered on the lines and seams coming up, should not be an issue with FieldTurf, owing to its installation and manufacturing methods.
"The AstroPlay field at West Virginia was installed poorly," Gilman said bluntly. "All of the panels of our fields are sewn together, not glued like AstroPlay and some other surfaces. If you look at our fields, each five-yard panel is one piece, and it consists of 14 feet, eight inches of green surface and four inches of white. Each piece is sewn together and flipped into place as we move down the field. There are no glued seams or inserts."
Since all of the turf is manufactured with the various colors, logos and lettering intact (rather than being glued into place afterward), there is little danger of the yard lines coming up, or shedding fibers along the seam edges. Gilman is confident in the durability of his product.
"We have never had seams come up," he said of the FieldTurf family. "We have an eight year warranty on the field." (Click here for a view of Field Turf's construction
FieldTurf was among the finalists for the most recent installation of a playing surface (which was won by the AstroTurf company, which subsequently went bankrupt and now exists in a reconstituted form).
"We battled for the previous install," Gilman recalled. "We had a good relationship with Rich Rodriguez and Ed Pastilong, but we didn't get that bid. We were sure that we would be back here, because we viewed the AstroPlay as a ‘you can pay me now or pay me later' kind of deal."
West Virginia finally came around to the fact that FieldTurf is the leader in the industry, and is getting a surface that should last longer than any of its previous surfaces. The FieldTurf product WVU is installing even has a defense against what used to be the biggest problem facing outdoor artificial surfaces.
"Ultraviolet rays used to be the big problem," Gilman explained. "UV rays [in sunlight] would break down the fibers fairly rapidly. The older fibers suffered a 10% per year degradation, so after five years you were looking at a 50% breakdown. The new polymers we are using today are much better, so that it is 8-12 years before they even start to degrade."
So what's the biggest challenge facing users and owners of the current FieldTurf surface? A belief that the surface can be ignored once it has been installed.
"That's the biggest thing we face – the false hope that it doesn't require maintenance," Gilman said. "Keeping outside contaminants, like food, out of the infill is the biggest challenge. We have maintenance equipment that we train the school on. The most important piece is just like a big comb. You get the comb down into the infill and keep it brushed. If you do that once per week it keeps the infill mixed properly."
With installations at numerous sites across the country, including fields with crowns just as big as WVU's, ("Nebraska and Tulsa have just as big of a crown as WVU, and we had no problems there," said Gilman) the hope is that West Virginia has a surface that will last it at least until the middle of the next decade, if not longer.