SDSU the only grass Bison will see all yearFARGO — Back in his assistant coaching days at a major university, Craig Bohl remembers talking to an opposing football coach before a game. He asked about the soggy field despite the fact it didn’t rain.
By: Jeff Kolpack, The Dickinson Press
FARGO — Back in his assistant coaching days at a major university, Craig Bohl remembers talking to an opposing football coach before a game. He asked about the soggy field despite the fact it didn’t rain.
Turns out the opposing head coach, who will remain nameless, turned the sprinklers on in the middle of the night. A slower field was to his advantage.
“I shook my head. I couldn’t believe it,” said Bohl, now in his ninth year as the North Dakota State head coach.
It’s called the home-field advantage and when it comes to playing surfaces, only one school in the Missouri Valley Football Conference has a field that can be cut to a desired length. NDSU, unbeaten and ranked fifth nationally, will get its only look at a grass field on Saturday when the Bison play at South Dakota State’s Coughlin Alumni Stadium.
The other eight Valley teams have artificial surfaces, with the latest being Western Illinois’ new Matrix Turf this year.
“It changes things,” said WIU head coach Mark Hendrickson. “We’ve had a dry fall so far, but when you have a wet day on a grass field, you have a different surface.”
A sampling of other Valley head coaches came to a similar conclusion: being the only grass field is an advantage for the Jackrabbits.
“I think it’s a huge factor,” said Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley, whose No. 2-ranked Panthers claimed a 31-14 win on SDSU’s grass last week. “I think it changes the course of the game, because South Dakota State recruited a team that plays well on grass. They have big, sound physical players.”
An example of the difference, Farley said, is in the cuts made by players. Teams built on turf who are used to making clean, lateral cuts find that tougher on natural grass.
“If you’re a downhill run team, I would play on grass every week,” he said.
Bohl said Notre Dame used to keep its grass field cut at a high length. When Youngstown State head coach Eric Wolford was an assistant at Illinois, he said Iowa kept the blades as long as possible.
“Then we would play at Arizona and it would be like a putting green,” Wolford said. “It’s a situation where they try to cater to what style of football team they have.”
It’s doubtful grass length will factor into the Bison game plan on Saturday. The field is in good condition with a dry fall and NDSU is somewhat of an oddity as a physical, West Coast offensive team that plays on turf.
The Bison practiced on their grass fields all week. But that doesn’t mean NDSU would be considered a good grass team.
“I would say we’re average on grass right now,” Bohl said. “That’s how I see it.”
Southern Illinois head coach Dale Lennon sees a consistency with field surfaces that he didn’t see when he was at the University of North Dakota. He said it’s made coaching easier since field conditions rarely have to be factored into game plans.
No longer do coaches have to keep an eye on the weather and wonder if they’ll be playing in mud on a rainy day.
“FieldTurf has just made the game better and safer for the players,” Lennon said.
The Fargodome is scheduled to replace its harder Magic Carpet surface next summer for a softer version. That would mean the other eight Valley schools besides SDSU would all have essentially the same surface.
The Jacks may want to keep it that way.
“We played UNI … and they were out of their comfort zone,” Stiegelmeier said. “It wasn’t the wind and it wasn’t the temperature. I don’t think it hurts us going to turf as it might a turf team or an indoor team going to grass.”
Kolpack is a sports reporter for
The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is
owned by Forum Communications Co.