SUNY-Morrisville shows off black turf: ‘Most unique field in college football’ (photos)

Morrisville, N.Y. — The first college football game in the country played on black turf took place at SUNY-Morrisville on Saturday, as the school lost to Catholic University and held a halftime ribbon-cutting ceremony to commemorate its first game on its unique home field.

The Mustangs fell 31-20 to Catholic in the first game on Drake Field’s new black artificial turf.

SUNY-Morrisville finished installing the surface in July. It has hosted three field hockey games on the new field. Saturday marked the first football game and included a halftime ceremony where the school’s PA announcer declared it “the most unique field in college football.”

Uniquely colored fields have grown in popularity in recent years, a trend popularized by the blue field at Boise State known as “smurf turf.” No other school, however, utilizes a black surface.

In addition to white lines on the turf for football, Morrisville’s field has lines for field hockey (yellow), women’s lacrosse (blue), men’s lacrosse (red) and green (soccer).

At least one high school has played on a black surface previously.

West Salem High School in Salem, Oregon used to have black turf but opted for a green field when it replaced its surface in 2020. It initially opted for the black surface because it was less expensive.

Rather than an economic choice, Morrisville athletic director Matthew Grawrock said the Mustangs made their change with intention.

He said the school was due to replace its old field and was going through a re-brand, deciding to shift its primary colors from green and white to green and black.

Grawrock said that 20 SUNY schools use green as a main color, often accompanied by white. Emphasizing black allows Morrisville to stand out among state schools.

“It started as a joke,” Grawrock said. “Then it became, ‘Well, why not?’ It’s really nice to know that we have something unique.”

Grawrock said he believes the field can play a small role in helping Morrisville stand out in the minds of athletes.

He said recruits in a number of sports have asked to take photos on the field, while the field hockey team from Utica went out of its way to say it was excited to play on the surface.

Seven NCAA programs beside Morrisville utilize non-traditional colors on their football field.

In addition to Boise State, Coastal Carolina has a teal field, Eastern Michigan uses gray, Central Arkansas has a purple and gray field, Eastern Washington uses red and Division II New Haven and Division III Luther College have blue fields.

The black surface has brought some publicity to Morrisville since it was unveiled, including being highlighted by Sports Illustrated.

Much of the initial attention centered on whether the school made a poor choice and questioned whether the experience would be unpleasant or unsafe for athletes working out during the summer.

“Everyone was tearing us down,” quarterback Steven Frerichs said. “That’s fine. We’re used to that. I think it’s really cool. I think it looks awesome.”

Grawrock said the school put significant consideration into the field before making its decision.

He said the school looked at research done at Brigham Young and Penn State that measured black turf between one and three degrees hotter than traditional artificial turf.

He said that artificial turf is hotter than grass in general because the black rubber pellets used in the surface absorb heat from the sun.

“If anyone thinks we made a multi-million dollar decision without doing our research they clearly don’t understand how SUNY operates,” Morrisville football coach Ed Raby Jr. said.

“Turf is hot. Green turf is hot. That’s the trade-off. It helps smaller schools like us not have to maintain a grass field. You are always making that sacrifice.”

Grawrock said other factors the school considered before installing the turf were the Upstate New York climate, where days of dangerous heat are rare, and the fact Division III athletes do not traditionally stay on campus to work out for the full summer. He said that meant athletes wouldn’t be spending all of July practicing on the black turf.

Frerichs said he didn’t feel any substantial difference when the team was going through training camp.

“All turf is really hot in the summer time anyway,” Frerichs said. “When it’s a hot day it’s a hot day.”

As has been the case at the schools that have opted to create unique environments, the color of the field had no tangible impact on the game.

Both teams played relatively clean games. Catholic scored a touchdown in the final two minutes to take the lead, then secured the win by returning an interception for a touchdown as Morrisville was forced to try to pass the ball down the field.

Catholic coach Mike Gutelius said his team has played on a blue field previously and he wasn’t concerned about the color before Saturday’s game. All it did was allow him to make a joke when the team’s walk-through the previous night had to be done in a hotel parking lot.

“We had to get here and find what the surface felt like more than the look,” Gutelius said. “We’ve played on different colored turfs. There are a lot of them out there. It really doesn’t make much of a difference. I’m glad it’s a nice surface so it was a good game. It’s not too spongy, not too hard.”

Ed Raby Jr. said the publicity seems to have led to increase in interest in the Morrisville program. The team has received interest from athletes in states that it doesn’t traditionally draw from, but he said it’s too early for any of that interest to have paid off with a successful recruitment.

Still, he is optimistic and said the players on the Mustangs appreciate the fact their program has something unique.

“It gives us notoriety,” Raby said. “Does it get attention on Morrisville? Yes. It’ll help us spread our message and tell our story. Morrisville is a great place. But it doesn’t help win you any football games.”

Contact Chris Carlson anytime: Email | Twitter | 315-382-7932

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