Finley Stadium Field Takes Battering In Championship Game

Monday, December 20, 2004
During a timeout, an official rushed out for some quick repair work on the battered field. <i>Click to enlarge photo.</i>
During a timeout, an official rushed out for some quick repair work on the battered field. Click to enlarge photo.
- photo by Tim Evearitt

The condition of the turf at Finley Stadium dominated much of the conversation in the nationally televised NCAA 1-A title game Friday night.

The ESPN2 crew repeatedly referred to the loose turf throughout the contest won by James Madison University over Montana.

A sideline announcer held up a large chunk of turf at the start of the game, and netting below the turf was also visible in several areas.

Announcers said the loose ground caused several runners to go down and had a dramatic effect on the kicking game.

The Convention Center staff had spent $17,000 to replace a large section of turf just weeks ago, but it didn't have time to take root.

The Convention Center within days is turning the Finley Stadium operation back over to the Stadium Corporation. Ryan Crimmins, Stadium Corporation chairman, said earlier this week it has not yet been decided whether UTC will be involved in the management or whether there will be a management team hired.

Jimmy Hudson, chairman of the Carter Street Corporation that runs the Convention Center, said Wednesday the stadium group was getting the facility in good shape.


"The field is in the best shape I have ever seen it," he said.

On the positive side, a large crowd - 16,771 - filled much of the stands on either side for the game, which has a large economic impact in Chattanooga each December.

Here is coverage about the field from the Missoulian newspaper in Montana:

After plenty of complaints over the years, this was the season that Chattanooga officials vowed to do something about the sorry sod at Finley Stadium.

They tried - and failed. James Madison and Montana both struggled to handle the sloppy turf Friday night in the Dukes' 31-21 Division I-AA national title victory.

A facelift that cost $17,200 proved to be the worst makeover this side of Joan Rivers. The field looked like a golf range by halftime, with numerous divots and bare spots. Throughout the contest, pieces of sod the size of tortillas kept coming loose. Players could be observed flipping divots aside, and struggling to gain their footing.

On several plays, runners slipped to the turf without even being tackled.

The natural grass field was resodded in mid-November, with 1,675 yards of premium quick-stand turf put in place from end zone to end zone. Then the field was painted to look good to the TV audience watching on ESPN2.

But the cosmetic effect could only last so long.

"That's probably the worst field I've ever played on in my life, grade school through college," said JMU quarterback Justin Rascati. "I was really surprised how bad it was for this type of game."

Whether the poor shape of the field effectively changed the outcome was open to debate.

Montana coach Bobby Hauck said it didn't make a difference, but Griz quarterback Craig Ochs said it gave an edge to JMU and its running game.

"It was difficult," Ochs said. "I think it favors a downhill running game. Much of our offense is cutting. And as a quarterback, trying to set up in that stuff is difficult. But we're not making excuses. They had to play on the same field. That wasn't the difference in the game."

The sorry condition of the field has been a sore spot for Chattanooga, and is bound to be a critical issue next year when the city's contract to host the championship comes up for renewal. The NCAA has already announced it will accept bids from other cities to host the title game.

An NCAA official said this week that it would be "prudent" for Chattanooga to consider installing an artificial surface at Finley. Friday's debacle will only strengthen that feeling.


Officials attempt to press down pieces of sod that had come up. <i>Click to enlarge photo.</i>
Officials attempt to press down pieces of sod that had come up. Click to enlarge photo.
- photo by Tim Evearitt

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