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Steve Sarkisian weighs in on natural grass versus turf debate

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“I just want a good playing surface.”

NCAA Football: Southern California at Texas Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, Texas Longhorns athletics director Chris Del Conte held his annual town hall meeting and fielded a question about the artificial playing surfaces at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium and UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

“In the football stadium, I do anticipate probably changing the rug this year — we’ve got to do something because that thing is about 12 years old, but that does not mean that we will not go to grass at some point in time,” Del Conte said.

The decision will come down to a conversation between Del Conte and new football coach Steve Sarkisian about what Sarkisian wants and needs.

In an interview with Craig Way and Jeff Howe on 104.9 The Horn on Thursday, Sarkisian fielded a question about his preference.

“When it comes to the playing surface, I just want a good playing surface,” Sarkisian said. “I think in this day and age of what’s going on in sports in general, especially in college football, you can flip the coin with grass fields and turf fields, and with the turf fields nowadays, the way they’re making them it’s dang near like playing on grass and aesthetically it looks good.”

Sarkisian mentioned A&T Stadium in Arlington and Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta as some of the best fields in the world that have artificial turf that plays like grass.

With a natural playing surface, the challenge comes down to maintenance — Del Conte mentioned the need to evaluate the growing patterns for a grass turf with the new south end zone while Sarkisian pointed to the wear and tear not just from playing games on the surface, but also from the desire to hold practices in the stadium.

In the offseason, Texas also holds conditioning sessions on the field. During the football season, the stadium often hosts high school football playoff games.

Artificial turf was originally installed at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in 1969 before spending $1.25 million to put in Prescription Athletic Turf in 1996. In 2002, Texas spent $75,000 to make the switch to TifSport Certified Bermuda grass, but that only lasted until 2009 when a choppy and dangerous playing surface for the season’s final home game against Texas A&M prompted the administration to install the FieldTurf surface that Del Conte is now talking about replacing.

“I don’t necessarily prefer one over the other — I prefer a really good playing surface that is safe for our players that can allow them to go out and perform and do what they do,” Sarkisian said.

Del Conte does have a preference, but he’s willing to defer to his coaches.

“I think both of them should be on natural grass,” Del Conte said of the football and baseball stadiums. “I love natural grass. I think it’s fantastic. However, who has the ultimate say is our head football coach and our head baseball coach.”

In the near future, Sarkisian will need to make a more definitive statement about what he wants to his athletics director. Right now, it sounds like FieldTurf better fits the program’s needs and provides a higher guarantee of player safety.