Despite increased debate over the past year about the safety of playing football on turf fields, Ohio State has no current plans to change the playing surface at Ohio Stadium back to natural grass.
Coming off a 2022 football season in which multiple Ohio State football players, including Jaxon Smith-Njigba and TreVeyon Henderson, suffered notable lower-body injuries while playing on the turf at Ohio Stadium, there have been calls from some Buckeye fans for OSU to replace the turf in the Shoe with grass. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, however, said that isn’t something OSU plans to do at this time, citing the desire to use Ohio Stadium for more than just football games.
“Ohio Stadium is an unbelievable facility. It's iconic. And one of the reasons we changed the artificial turf was to make it more usable,” Smith told Eleven Warriors on this week’s Real Pod Wednesdays. “We have five concerts in the stadium this summer. We just had the George Strait concert and Chris Stapleton in that place, broke records. We have four more coming up in August. So I really feel like our injury prevention program and our sports science is the best there is. And so we're going to continue to make sure that we focus on that and preparing our student-athletes for whatever turf they play on. And hopefully, those surfaces that don't have the E-Layer piece underneath it will add that over time. And hopefully people will replace their artificial turf more frequently, then you mitigate that.
“So haven't thought about (replacing the turf with grass) yet. It may come to us. It's always a possibility. But at this point in time, it’s something that we're not prepared to do.”
Ohio State just replaced the turf inside Ohio Stadium last year, and the majority of schools in the Big Ten play on turf fields. The only Big Ten schools that currently play home games on natural grass are Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue (though they’ll be joined by UCLA and USC next year). Given that, playing on turf would continue to be a reality for the Buckeyes even if the Shoe was converted to grass.
That said, the movement to replace turf fields with grass is one that’s gained steam across the country thanks to a campaign by the NFL Players Association. A study released by the NFLPA in April showed that the rate of injuries in NFL games on turf fields has been higher compared to games on grass fields in 10 of the past 11 seasons, and former Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa – whose Ohio State career ended when he suffered a core-muscle injury while playing TCU on turf at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas – is among those who have been vocal that “FieldTurf is a problem in the NFL.”
Ohio State director of sports performance Mickey Marotti, however, downplayed those concerns when asked last week about the notion that playing on grass is better than turf.
“I mean, you really got to look at what research is real. You really gotta look into all those numbers,” Marotti said. “I know it's a point of interest for really everybody, I get it … I think the facilities people that looked at all that, they looked into all of it, and we just continue to look into it. But yeah, you just got to be careful with the studies that you read, like, is it just a study? Or is it just like somebody giving me some information?”
Marotti said Ohio State reevaluates its injury prevention strategies every year and that it is always looking into what it can do better to help keep players healthy. That said, he didn’t feel as though Ohio State had an abnormally high number of injuries last year, noting that Smith-Njigba’s hamstring injury did not occur in the way hamstring injuries typically do.
“I think we do that every year,” Marotti said when asked if Ohio State looked into injury prevention after last season. “We analyze what we do, how we do it, why we do it. We have a lot of resources around here to help us come up with the best plan. We look at kind of how we practice, when we practice, what we eat, how we eat, when we get our sleep, it's a gamut of things that we look at. I think you do that every year, and last year was no different.
“I think in the jobs that we do, I think you gotta turn over every stone from a sports performance standpoint, from athletic training, to physical rehab, to nutrition, strength and conditioning, speed development, all that you have to look at. You have to look at equipment. I think that's just what you have to do every year, and kind of see how you do things and how you could do it better. And you do.”
Smith is confident that Marotti and the rest of Ohio State’s staff will do everything they can to keep the Buckeyes healthy regardless of what field they are playing on each week. As for Ohio Stadium, Smith wants the Shoe to be a mecca for more than just the football games the Buckeyes play in it each year, and that’s one reason why Ohio State is in no hurry to switch back to grass, which requires much more maintenance between events than turf.
“You have a multi-million-dollar iconic facility sitting there. And so you can say to yourself, ‘We're only going to use it for football.’ I'm not so sure that's the best use of a 200-plus-million dollar facility that’s sitting right in the middle of a great state and a great city,” Smith said. “So we have concerts because they have such a great economic impact in our community. Phenomenal economic impact in our community. And it does the same thing that we do in football. I know at the end of the day, we focus on the game, but what we do through athletics is we bring communities together. We bring people together.
“When you come to a concert, a football game or even a special event in the Shoe or the Schott or whatever, you're not coming to have something you walk away with. It's not like going to Kmart. You’re coming with a passion, with an emotion and you're coming for the social experience. So for us, any time we could use our venues and our community to bring community together, we're gonna do that.”
Ohio Stadium hosted the Buckeye Country Superfest on May 27 and is also set to host August concerts featuring Billy Joel and Stevie Nicks (Aug. 5), Def Leppard and Motley Crue with Alice Cooper (Aug. 8) and Morgan Wallen (Aug. 11 and 12).