Spring practices concluded more than a week ago but there is a buzz surrounding two projects involving Vanderbilt's football program.
By Monday afternoon, more than half of the natural grass surface on Dudley Field in Vanderbilt Stadium had been removed. Immediately after the spring game on April 14, construction began to prepare the field for an artificial turf playing surface.
Vanderbilt has played its home games on grass since 1999.
Vice chancellor of athletics David Williams said the decision to switch to turf was not a difficult one. He based it on coach’s preference in addition to saving on maintenance costs and allowing the stadium to host other events.
Former coach Bobby Johnson, who guided the Commodores from 2002-10, preferred grass while second-year coach James Franklin wanted turf.
“What you’re trying to do is give your coach the platform they’re most comfortable with,” Williams said. “For me, it is also an opportunity ... because it does allow us to make that stadium more available for high school football.”
On Friday, the Vanderbilt Board of Trust approved the construction of a multipurpose indoor facility that will include a 120-yard indoor practice field with a 300-meter indoor track surrounding it. The facility will be used by all varsity sports, along with club and intramural teams, students, faculty and staff.
In addition, the student recreation center, which is nearly 30 years old, will be renovated to increase weight training facilities and fitness areas. A four-lane bowling alley will be added for use by the Vanderbilt women’s bowling team and the student body.
The project is being funded by philanthropic and university funds and is expected to be finished by the summer of 2014.
“We have known for a number of years that the current rec center needed to be expanded and modernized, based on surveys we’ve done of its users,” Williams said. “We see this project as an opportunity to offer our faculty and staff larger and additional exercise facilities, our students enhanced wellness programs and our varsity, club and intramural teams increased indoor practice and playing space.”
The installation of artificial turf is expected to be finished by the season opener on Aug. 30 against South Carolina. The same timetable is in place for a new JumboTron and hillside seating in the open end zone near Memorial Gymnasium.
With the turf, Williams said the university plans to bid, in conjunction with the Nashville Sports Council, to serve as a host site for the TSSAA state football championships. Vanderbilt last hosted a state championship game in 2004.
Williams said the wear and tear of hosting six to eight games over a three-day period was too much for the grass surface.
“Now we would be able to do that. So I’m hoping we’ll be able to bring some high school games back in,” he said. “You save money by maintenance. You don’t have as big of maintenance and so some of the recovery and cost of it over time is a decrease in the maintenance. But certainly by having other events in there you also have an opportunity to make some money. There is some money to be brought in on high school football.”