Not all football fields are created equal.
Oh, sure, with end zones they are 120 yards in length and 53 1/3 yards (160 feet) wide. Yet, starting with the mold-breaking blue turf Boise State installed in 1986 there are a number of college football programs that have veered from traditional green fields.
Central Arkansas, an FCS program in the Southland Conference, is one such school. Prior to the 2011 season it installed a turf that highlights its purple and gray colors. Other Division I schools with non-green fields are Eastern Washington, Coastal Carolina and New Haven at the FCS level with Eastern Michigan and Boise State, which in 2009 trademarked its blue turf, at the FBS level.
UCA’s athletics director, Dr. Brad Teague, and his department informed the university’s administrators that transitioning First Security Field at Estes Stadium from a grass surface to an artificial one would result in $750,000 savings over a 10-year period, which is the life expectancy of their now five-year-old turf.
“When we finally decided to convince the university that we could actually save money over time with a synthetic surface, we started looking at designs,” said Teague, who been in his present position since 2007.
Teague along with his marketing and branding directors hunched over a computer and went to town plugging in various designs. One that was favored was similar to Oregon’s Autzen Stadium with alternating light and dark shades of green every five yards. Eventually, though Teague does not remember who, somebody suggested inputting UCA’s colors.
“We loved it,” he said. “It just looked good. It popped.”
So much so that it was time to start presenting the idea to focus groups that included donors, sponsors and the student body. Teague’s team provided various options and ultimately a design with alternating purple and gray every five yards won out.
Teague said because UCA, the last school in the Southland to play on a natural surface, was not installing a blue turf he did not reach out to Boise State for approval.
“Technically, the trademark is for the color blue applied to artificial turf, and technically, according to our attorneys, trademark infringement is where you use a same or similar mark on the same or similar goods and services,” said Rachael Bikerton, Boise State’s Director of Licensing and Trademark Enforcement. “So if it is a football field and if it is a non-green color there could be an argument that there is trademark infringement and the next test is whether there is confusion. Well, obviously somebody walking onto Central Arkansas’ field is not going to think they are in Boise.”
Therefore there was no problem UCA’s new field. However, Boise State, which in 2009 reached a licensing agreement with New Haven and its blue turf, still had to protect its interests by issuing the letter of approval. Teague was in receipt of that letter after the turf’s installation.
“We are advised by our attorneys we have to do something about it because we could lose our trademark,” said Bickerton, who noted there are about 30 schools that have blue fields, mostly elementary schools and high schools, and that she receives five or six such requests annually. “So it is easier for us to put it on record that we do not have issue with this use (of a non-green field). It was to protect our rights rather than to assert any rights over them.”
Next for Teague was planning the turf’s unveiling. The year before, on April Fools’ Day 2010, LSU revealed a digital rendering of an all-purple field.
Of course, it was all done in good fun. It also gave Teague an idea.
“We thought let’s do the same thing on April Fool’s Day, only we are not kidding,” he said. “It really worked and gave us a lot of play in the media. That was the reason we did it. We wanted some kind of national notoriety.”
Quarterback Hayden Hildebrand, whose Bears defeated Arkansas State last week for their first-ever win against an FBS opponent, recalled his reaction when he first saw the field during a recruiting trip.
“As soon as you see it, it just kind of stuns you like, ‘Wow, that’s actually a football field,’” said the redshirt junior from Louisiana. “I didn’t know what to think of it at first, but when you start playing on it you get used to it.”
Hildebrand, who likes that UCA stands out a bit because people know they are the school with the purple and gray turf, said playing at Arkansas State provided a bit of a different challenge after opening the season with three home games.
“We were on a normal green turf and my center (junior Micah Parten) said that it was weird being on a green field,” he said. “That was pretty funny, but our turf gives us something to be known for.”
Being known for the turf, the only one in all of Division I football (FBS and FCS) with alternating colors, has expanded UCA’s reach far beyond the middle of Arkansas.
“We heard a lot about it the first two or three years and now the turf is almost customary, not a new thing,” said Teague. “All of our recruits and everybody I talked to during the (most recent) recruiting process really liked it. They want to play on it and be a part of ‘The Stripes.’”
The average fan might wonder why more programs do not transition to a turf that highlights school colors. While many helmet and uniform designs are continuously altered, tradition is a tough thing to steer away from when it comes to a green field.
“Having a traditional green is probably what administrators think that majority of their constituencies want,” said Teague. “But they might find out, if they ask, that with an innovative design and something unique to their program and their brand, their constituencies might be willing to convert to a non-traditional field.”
Above and middle: Estes Stadium courtesy UCA Media Relations.
Bottom: Boise State’s field courtesy Boise State University.