The Arizona Wildcats will open the 2013 football season with a new-look stadium - and fresh, fake turf, if athletic director Greg Byrne has his way.
UA officials are "absolutely exploring" replacing Arizona Stadium's grass with an artificial surface for 2013, the year its north end zone expansion opens, Byrne said Friday.
Officials will also replace the temporary south-side bleachers, formerly home of the "Red Zone," with permanent seating. The chairs will be scalloped, providing better separation between fans who often sit shoulder-to-shoulder.
Turf fields typically cost about $1 million to install but are cheaper to maintain and far more versatile. The Wildcats will be able to practice at the stadium year-round, should they choose, without ripping up the field.
The UA has played on grass every year since its first team was formed in 1899. The Wildcats' current surface is Bermuda.
"It's 100 percent the versatility, yes," Byrne said. "The surface has come so far that it's become a very viable option in a lot of different areas of the country."
Cold-weather schools have long used artificial turf in place of grass, which dies out during the fall. Advancements in turf technology, however, have made artificial surfaces a sensible and cost-effective choice in the Sun Belt. The University of Texas, Texas Tech and Ole Miss have all installed synthetic turf in recent years; New Mexico recently announced plans to replace its University Stadium grass with turf by start of the 2013 season.
Three local high schools - Tucson, Salpointe Catholic and Cienega - all play their home games on artificial turf.
Byrne said it's too early to tell which company would provide Arizona's new turf - "there are a lot of brands out there," he said - but both the UA and first-year coach Rich Rodriguez seem to prefer FieldTurf.
The Wildcats installed 40 yards of FieldTurf Duraspine PRO onto the east side of the Jimenez Practice Facility two years ago. Rodriguez's West Virginia and Michigan teams both played on FieldTurf; in fact, the finicky coach often watered the fields down to make them "faster."
FieldTurf uses monofilament fibers to create bright-green "grass" blades. Rubber and silica "sand" provides padding. New technology would cut down the radiant heat that has long been a drawback to turf fields, Byrne said.
On StarNet: Follow the Cats through the offseason at: azstarnet.com/finley