Seven days before South Carolina’s first football game of the 2018 season, the playing surface at Williams-Brice Stadium was only half covered with grass, but Gamecocks officials are confident their home field will be ready to go Saturday when Coastal Carolina visits.
Damage done by Tuesday’s Beyonce/Jay-Z concert at the stadium required the entire playing surface to be taken up and replaced. But the Gamecocks were expecting that and got to work right away on the project.
“We would not have done this if we believed there was a safety issue,” said Clark Cox, the school’s assistant athletics director for turf and landscaping. “My job and our entire grounds staff’s job, our No. 1 priority in everything we do is safety and welfare of our student-athletes. We would not be doing this if this wasn’t a proven method of giving a safe surface.”
That method involves a newly created sod product called Instant Play provided by Precision Turf of Georgia. Thirteen truckloads were delivered to Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday morning, and another 13 truckloads will be delivered Sunday morning. By the end of the day Sunday, the field will feature 90,000 square feet of new grass.
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“It’s a challenge, but this is something that’s not uncommon in our industry,” Cox said. “There are a lot of NFL teams that do this on a regular basis. Several colleges have done this same type of process. It’s a challenge from the standpoint that we’ve never done it before, but the company that we’re using, they have plenty of experience doing it. Challenges are what make things fun.”
The Gamecocks open the season at noon Sept. 1 against Coastal Carolina. Cox and his staff will line the field starting Monday.
“I’m extremely confident in Clark Cox. Clark is one of the best in the business,” South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner said. “We are not reinventing the wheel here. This has been done around the country with success. If I was to tell you that I wasn’t concerned or apprehensive, I wouldn’t be telling you the truth, but I think I get paid to worry about a lot of things.”
Tanner initially did not want to host the concert because it was so close to the start of the season, but changed his mind after talking to football coach Will Muschamp and Cox.
Muschamp “is the one who shed so much light on why we needed to do it,” said Tanner, who added Muschamp thought the event would be good for the community and his team’s recruiting efforts.
“I’m not going to stand here and say I wasn’t like, ‘Hmm, that’s close to the season,’ but after I thought about it and had conversations with people who have done it, I was confident we could get it done,” Cox said.
The sod was laid down in 42-inch-wide strips. The grounds crew will roll the field several times to make sure there are no seams or creases, but even that step probably is not necessary because of the design of the sod, Cox said.
“The idea with this sod is you can literally play on it right away,” he said Saturday morning. “We could play a football game on it this afternoon if we wanted to.”
The replacement of the playing surface is expected to cost between $150,000 and $200,000, but the concert organizers are responsible for that cost, Tanner said. Tuesday night’s event went so smoothly that Tanner said there’s a chance the school will host similar concerts in the future.
“I don’t think we’ll do one every other week, but the way we handled this concert, I think would give us more opportunities to do some,” he said.