Let the grass keep growing at Yale Bowl: No switch to synthetic turf

By Joel Alderman

Despite reports that artificial turf, a 65-foot high “bubble” roof, and low level lighting will be installed at the 101 year old Yale Bowl during this off season, any such plan, if it ever really existed, has been put on hold.

This past summer John Altavilla reported in the Hartford Courant that the changes would be made. He even quoted Yale football coach, Tony Reno, that the renovation work would take place this winter. Reno said he was in favor of such changes because it would allow his team and those of other sports to practice outside during the winter months.

Reno pointed out to Altavilla, who is the Yale football beat writer for the Courant, that because the field is below sea level, “it’s hard to maintain a grass surface . . . And due to the harsh winters, it’s hard to use the field in other than a small window in time.”

Finally some official word from Yale

Today, December 10th, Steve Conn, the Associate Athletic Director and Sports Publicity Director, said in the Yale Daily News that the plan is no longer under consideration and that Yale is exploring ways to utilize additional practice space outside of the Bowl.

“There are no renovations, no plans to change anything in the Bowl other than maintenance projects, … finishing seats and concrete.” Conn said.

According to Daniela Brighenti, a staff reporter for the student paper, Tom Beckett, the Yale Athletic Director, confirmed that the field inside the Bowl will remain natural grass, and did not state the reason that there will be no switch to turf. Another administrator, Alison Cole, the Director of Athletics Development, told the News that Yale is re-evaluating the project and considering all possible options.

Conn added that one possibility is adding a bubble roof to an already existing artificial turf field, such as Reese Stadium, Frank Field or Johnson Field, currently used for soccer, lacrosse, softball, and for football practice.

Criticisms

Shortly after the story broke that synthetic turf would be installed in the Bowl, opposition was raised in the local media, including WTNH Channel 8. It was from a group of ten doctors, including some affiliated with Yale. However, they were not speaking on behalf of Yale, but for their own affiliated company called Environment & Human Health Inc (EHHI), a Connecticut corporation which has been in existence since 2003.

A spokeswoman for EHHI claimed that the infill for synthetic turf “is usually ground up rubber tires and inside rubber tires, (containing) 20 carcinogens. So people are exposed to 20 carcinogens all at the same time.”

Response to criticisms

Sprinturf, LLC, is a polyethylene turf company that was founded in 1990 and for the past five years has been owned by Integrated Turf Solutions. In response to EHHI’s concerns, Rom Reddy, a spokesman for ITS, told Channel 8-News, in a prepared statement:

“Synthetic turf fields using crumb rubber are safe. More than 75 studies from academic, federal and state government organizations, including the Connecticut Department of Public Health, have all had one thing in common – all have found no connection between these fields and cancer or other health issues.”

He also stated that the conclusions of Environment & Human Health Inc. are not based on a “peer-reviewed study and (not) supported by any actual data or evidence.”

He further claimed that over “75 studies from academic, federal and state government organizations, including the Connecticut Department of Public Health, have all had one thing in common – all have found no connection between these fields and cancer or other health issues.”

Is it Yale’s decision not to proceed based on health safety or finances?

Whether Yale not moving forward at this time is because of any concern for health and safety is not clear. It could be more of a financial issue. Even though Yale is a richly endowed university, it has long been its policy, going back to the construction of the Bowl itself, that athletic facilities are funded only by individual donors.

As an example, the field at the Bowl, as well as repairs to the structure, were financed by a fiftieth reunion gift from the Yale Class of 1954, a class that includes philanthropist Joel Smilow and others of substantial means. In recognition of its generosity, the playing surface was named “The Class of 1954 Field.” If turf were to replace the grass, would the name of the field be lost?

In anticipation that the playing surface could be changed, and the name given to the field become no longer applicable, I asked the class secretary, Russell S. Reynolds, by email how he thought the membership would react.

He replied that they are “most supportive of …Yale’s athletic programs and changes to the fields” and pointed out that “most colleges have already done what Yale is doing.” So it did not appear as if the donating class of 1954 would have been offended if its grass field were to be replaced.

Six of the eight Ivy League colleges play football on turf, including Harvard, arguably the home of the world’s leading medical researchers, physicians, scientists and scholars. Our question would be this: If Harvard, along with Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth and Pennsylvania, saw no significant reason not to install synthetic turf, why should Yale stand apart?

The feeling here is that a fund raising project would have to come first, before the Class of 1954 Field is torn up. So far we know of none. Therefore the pros and cons of artificial turf are at this point, to use a phrase especially applicable to a leading educational institution, strictly “academic.”

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