Proponents of natural grass are sounding the alarm after UNC-Chapel Hill announced it would install artificial turf in Kenan Memorial Stadium.
Turfgrass Producers International and the North Carolina Sod Producers Association sent a letter to high-ranking UNC officials warning of higher injury rates connected to playing on artificial turf.
The UNC Board of Governors, UNC Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham, UNC Campus Health Executive Director Ken Pittman and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler were among the officials who received the letter.
The decision to move to artificial turf at Kenan was announced in late March as new head coach Mack Brown wanted the switch.
In a statement, UNC said the move was the “best option for our football team” and for Kenan Stadium as it is used by other varsity programs.
UNC says the synthetic grass installed in Kenan will use the RootZone system which is said to have better shock absorbency and improve safety.
Cunningham added that after building and updating multiple facilities in recent years, the department has learned a great deal about what works best in various venues and how the latest synthetic surfaces perform under heavy use.
“In addition, research has shown RootZone to reduce torque transmitted to lower extremities,” UNC’s statement read.
The natural grass groups point to a recently released study published by the American Journal of Sports Medicine that points to an increase in injuries on artificial turf.
The study looked at nearly 214,000 distinct plays during the 2012-16 NFL seasons.
The study says there was a 56 percent higher knee/ankle/foot injury rate on artificial turf resulting in any playing time loss.
When it comes to higher ankle injuries, the study says there was a 68 percent increase on synthetic turf resulting in time lost and a 103 percent increase in players sitting out at least eight days.
The peer-reviewed study also says 1 in 5 concussions are from head-to-turf impacts. The critical fall height for concussions is less than half the critical fall height on natural grass.
“It sets a precedent by one of North Carolina’s leading educational institutions who has chosen to replace a locally-grown, successful, NC agricultural product with an out-of-state plastic product that is not only more expensive, but less safe for NC kids and athletes,” the letter reads.
The natural grass proponents say North Carolina sod producers will lose out to out-of-state synthetic field companies.
Keaton Vandermark, who helped pen the letter, said the only Cunningham has responded who said the decision to switch “was not an easy one, and was made only after considering numerous factors.”
Cunningham said the decision to install synthetic turf was not Brown’s alone but was the best option for the teams and groups who use the stadium.
The athletic director also said a factor in the move was the “health and well-being of our students.”
The letter to the UNC officials was also signed by Casey Reynolds, executive director of Turfgrass Producers International, and Linda Bradley, vice president of NCSPA.