A Cuddly Bear Defense of Field Turf

There’s an axiom out there of “don’t poke the bear.”  It’s a good rule of thumb whether that bear is holding a Coca-Cola or a pic-i-nic basket.  Look, it’s already in possession of a commercialized good, and bears are nothing if they’re not commercial.  The Snuggles bear, Winnie the Pooh, Teddy Ruxpin, etc., they’re all vicious killers just begging for you to poke them.  DON’T DO IT.  The axiom says so.  Just leave it be because the results might just be…cuddly.

I know what you’re thinking:

“Moons, you’re an idiot.”

Fair.

I know what else you’re thinking:

“What the f— is he talking about? These are all cartoon bears.”

Also, fair.  Your second thought is more salient to my thoughts about the ongoing debate about Notre Dame daring to defy tradition by installing field turf. Ugh, field turf again.  I know, just like the axiom of “don’t poke the bear” it just won’t go away.  Despite our best efforts, there still rages a debate about what this means for Notre Dame’s program.

I guess it’s best to start with the “argument” against, which is best summarized as tradition.  Want to avoid discussing an issue…particularly one you don’t have a reasonable leg to stand on, invoke the word “tradition” and watch the opinion divide.  This line of reasoning increases in effect at a school like Notre Dame that is constantly chasing its own shadow. Sometimes the detractors mask their arguments in “injury potential” or “aesthetic appeal,” but I’m still waiting on the concrete evidence of either.

Tradition is not a bad thing. However, it should (and does) mean something more than “we’ve done it for a long time.”  Once we associate “tradition” with “we’ve done it for a long time,” we might as well give up on the notion of progress.  I don’t mean to be hyperbolic on this point as I think that degrades it.  However, when I see people espouse the point of we can’t change in the name of tradition, I can’t help but think we’re poking Winnie the Pooh.  Of course what I mean is we’re anti-honey.  Of course what I mean by that is there’s no merit to the notion of poking the bear.

The “traditionalist” sentiment is a fair one.  For many fans, “tradition” is something that binds them (like honey to Pooh) to the University of Notre Dame.  I tend to recoil a bit when I hear this, as what is traditional is a fleeting concept.  That’s a problem of a greater magnitude.  No need to poke the bear. For something like field turf, the equation should be much simpler:  1.  Does it make economic sense?  2.  What’s the impact on the on-field product?

Not to get Snuggles’ fur up in a bunch, but there’s probably a fairer argument against the jumbotron than there is against field turf.  The jumbotron quite directly invites additional commercialism into the stadium by giving an increased opportunity for ads to invade the mums.  I’ve been to my share of college football stadiums, and I’ll admit that this can be an annoyance.  For the record, I’m not opposed to a jumbotron.  Hypothetically alive in the 21st Century Knute Rockne would agree with me.  Even if you’re not willing to join our club on that issue, field turf poses no such issue.

The notion of having a reliably consistent, much more easily managed playing surface should be welcome. What about tradition begs that players be subjected to inadequate playing surfaces? What about tradition begs that Notre Dame not embrace highly improved 21st century technology? We’re not talking about the horrid Astroturf surfaces first introduced in the 70’s and 80’s. To paraphrase the great Allen Iverson:  “We’re talking ‘bout [field tuf].  We ain’t talkin’ about the game.  We’re talkin’ bout [field turf]. A competent argument will have to do more than point to what we’ve done prior to the technology existing.

Lest I be accused though of completely ignoring the “traditionalist” point of view, let me pop open Teddy Ruxpin’s tape deck (seriously, this is what proponents of natural grass are hanging their hat on?  A tape deck wielding bear in the age of iTunes?) and broach the topic of tradition.  When I think of ND, I think of many things:  The National Championships, the Heismans, a sense of community, a sense of academic rigor, and a sense of uncompromising standards.  The question is:  Why would we then compromise standards just to maintain the illusion that natural grass (from time to time) contributes something to the game?  What does natural grass over field turf add that leather helmets over modern helmets didn’t?  Technological advancement, and embracement thereof, is not the same thing as abandoning the ways of Notre Dame. I’ve seen no study to suggest that injury risk increases, that it’s more difficult to maintain, or that there’s any inherent advantage to natural grass over modern field turf.

I’ll admit that I’m posing a whole bunch of rhetorical questions, if you (proponent of natural grass) admits that you don’t have any grounded reason to deny progress.  That you’re just worried that if you poke the bear, you’ll find it to be just as benign and adorable as I do.  It’s okay if you don’t want to do it now.  You’ll probably have to in the near future anyways.  What’s funny is you probably won’t be able to tell the difference between now and then.

I write this because I care.  I care about what the word “tradition” should actually mean.  I love all the things that truly embody Notre Dame and refuse to degrade tradition by suggesting that something like natural grass versus field turf belongs in that definition.  I’m open to good, reasoned arguments, but please don’t tell me to avoid poking the bear on this one.  Tradition is Smokey the Bear armed with a semi-automatic when he sees a car recklessly flick a cigarette into a forest.  What you’re talking about amounts to Yogi choosing between a pizza and a foot long sub.

– Moons

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