In Focus: Turf Builders
This story commissioned by Capital One Bank:
LSU Grounds Crew Excels in the Science of Field Management
LSU coach Les Miles enjoys taking a bite of grass from every playing field he steps on. He claims the habit started when he was 13 years old, and it has continued from his playing days on the offensive line into his coaching career.
In an interview with Erin Andrews on ESPN's Gameday set last season, Miles stated that the best-tasting grass in the SEC was in Tiger Stadium. Not only is it the best-tasting field, but also the finest to play on.
Tiger Stadium's field is a special blend of grass called "celebration" Bermuda and was installed prior to the 2010 season.
Ronnie Haliburton, Senior Associate Athletic Director for Facility Management, oversees all of LSU's athletic fields and facilities. He is joined by Director of Facilities and Grounds Todd Jeansonne, Assistant Directors of Facilities and Grounds Eric Fasbender and Terrance Bold and their crews.
Haliburton played as a tight end for the LSU football team from 1986-89, and was a member of two Southeastern Conference championship teams. He later played for the Denver Broncos for three years.
After playing on countless fields himself, Haliburton takes pride in Tiger Stadium's playing surface in comparison to the rest of the country.
"They compare themselves to us," Haliburton said. "I don't have time to worry about what others are doing. I can only control and worry about what we do. This is Death Valley, the best stadium in college football."
Haliburton credits the evolution of athletic fields to the likes of Fasbender, who majored in turf management at the University of Tennessee after gaining interest in the profession while interning with a minor league baseball team.
"It is a lot science, a bit of math, biology, botany, chemistry and plant physiology," Fasbender said. "That is what a lot of people in the general public do not necessarily realize. The things that we can do to the grass, like a Tiger Stadium, where we are able to actually manipulate the grass at the metabolic level by adding a nutrient or taking it away there."
Although it never rains in Tiger Stadium, the top surface of the field sits on about 10 inches of sand, which allows the playing surface to absorb the water and remain in the best possible shape. The LSU grounds crew also prepares for cold weather as well.
"As the temperature starts to drop, we cover the field with blankets in the evening so that we can manipulate the plant to think that it is warmer because the air temperature around the plant and the soil stays hot," Fasbender said. "Any Bermuda grass that doesn't have that blanket on it would start to slow down a little bit."
Teams manipulate how they grow their fields to suit their team's style of play. The Tigers are one of the fastest teams in college football and have a field tailored to their strengths.
"The only regulation is that you have to have your field 160 feet wide by a 360 feet long and each one of the hash marks needs to be three feet from the next," Fasbender said. "Whenever commentators talk about how the field is fast and tight, typically what has happened is that the sports turf manager has top-dressed by adding sand."
Alex Box Stadium recently installed "celebration" Bermuda in the outfield grass this offseason because of how well the infield has performed. In addition, the surfaces of Tiger Park and the LSU Soccer complex feature the same blend of grass.
"I have been fortunate and blessed to work with some incredible coaches," Fasbender said. "We have great coaches in our programs - Coach Miles, (baseball coach) Paul Mainieri, (softball coach) Beth Torina and (soccer coach) Brian Lee. Coaches always keep things interesting and provide good feedback for us."
Miles not only wants his field to play fast, he wants it to taste good as well.
"I always joke with people that our fertilizer program consists of Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning and Crystal Hot Sauce just to make sure that it is seasoned correctly," Fasbender said.