As the JMU football team neared its kickoff against Delaware during the first round of the 2018 FCS Playoffs, it wasn’t clear if the field would be ready for the matchup.
Leading up to the 3 p.m. start of the Nov. 24 meeting between the two CAA programs, rain hammered the Harrisonburg area. There hadn’t been many breaks in the weather, leaving little time for the water to drain. As Dukes and Blue Hens went on the field for warmups, JMU Athletics wondered if the pooling water would be too dangerous to play in. While a delay wasn’t implemented, the field’s quality prior to the game highlighted an issue to fix.
Not even six months after JMU defeated Delaware 20-6 on that rainy Saturday, JMU Athletics announced its decision to replace the synthetic field with the newest version made by FieldTurf. The field in Bridgeforth Stadium was last replaced in 2013, which was also a FieldTurf surface. The FieldTurf Revolution 360 surface and installation totaled $675,885.
“One of the true benefits of having … a synthetic field is that it’s porous throughout [and] drains really well,” Assistant A.D. for Facilities and Events Ty Phillips said. “That had been the condition of that field through the first several years of its life, but then over the last couple years, you start to see the water filtration not working as well.”
The May project was carried out by Carolina Green Corp., which Phillips said has done a significant amount of work on fields in the Mid-Atlantic region. Carolina Green has also worked with JMU to help replace the field hockey and softball surfaces. The company will also replace Eagle Field at Veterans Memorial Park in 2020.
“As a result of the full scope of activities that occur in Bridgeforth Stadium, there has been significant wear and tear on the Zane Showker Field surface,” JMU Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne said in a statement announcing the new field in May. “This will place our student-athletes in a better position to succeed in preparation and performance while also adding an updated, aesthetically-pleasing branded look to our facility.”
In order for JMU to get as much use out of the new field as possible, the drainage issue that fans saw firsthand back in November needed to be addressed. According to documents received by The Breeze through a Freedom of Information Act request, the field had a filtration rate much lower than it needed to be.
The documents suggested that synthetic fields drain at a rate of 10 to 12 inches per hour, but Zane Showker Field had a filtration rate of 0.67 inches per hour.
To speed up the turf’s filtration in time for the 2019 football season and be cost-effective, JMU decided to keep the stone base that was already there and add in more drains across the surface.
“Basically, what happened is [an engineering group] put in additional gutter systems to augment what’s there,” Phillips said. “And a different additional stone base that … allows for better drainage within the turf. So, we basically have twice the drainage that was out there previously.”
Along with improved filtration rates, the new surface also includes updates to its logos and markings. JMU Athletics rebranded back in January 2017, but it cost too much to only update the markings. The need for an entirely new field allowed for the upgrade. The field now has the updated logo at midfield — which was previously Duke Dog — and the endzone now reads “James Madison” instead of “Madison” while also featuring the word “Dukes” on the sidelines along with purple and gold markings.
Kevin Warner, JMU Athletics’ assistant athletic director for communications, said in an email that the new field doesn’t only affect the student-athletes who use it. It also becomes important for the university. The new surface, Warner said, is also “far-reaching” from a branding standpoint.
“A branded design can give an impression in terms of pride for our program, our school and our colors,” Warner said in an email. “It is one of the most visible impacts for anyone visiting our facilities, whether that’s a fan, donor, prospective athlete, student or anyone else. For many sports, there is also a significant impact for watching on television or a digital stream, as well as photography or social media content emanating from an event.”
As JMU football enters the 2019 season, JMU Athletics also enters a new eight-year warranty period with FieldTurf for its new synthetic field. The warranty helps protect JMU if there are any manufacturer errors during the first eight years following the construction.
For Phillips and the rest of JMU Athletics, the hope is that the field lasts beyond the first eight years — especially after fixing the filtration issue.
“We’re very hopeful that we will get eight years of really good usage out of this field,” Phillips said. “Maybe in extreme cases, you don’t get quite eight years out of something, but generally speaking, eight years is a really kind of standard … As we kind of forecast ahead, we’ll be thinking ahead for the future for the next replacement, but we have some time before we have to think about that.”
Contact Catie Harper at email@example.com. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter at @TheBreezeSports.