Naval Academy officials want to keep the natural feel of the school's main athletic field. They also want to put that field, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, to better use.
But with the grass wearing thin, the Annapolis military college is moving to install artificial sod that will be ready late this summer in time for the midshipmen's football opener.
The installation of FieldTurf is one of the final pieces of the $40 million renovation at the 46-year-old stadium, which is fast becoming home to events beyond Navy football and lacrosse games and graduation.
"Naturally, we would prefer grass ... if it were possible," said athletic director Chet Gladchuk. "But the grass will not hold up."
To get through a schedule of spring events, college officials are spending $20,000 to fill in muddy swaths with real grass - an occurrence that's common after heavy usage and pouring rain.
"We don't have the convenience to wait for it to grow," Gladchuk said.
The football team uses the field for practices in the spring and games in the fall. The men's lacrosse teams also regularly use the venue. (The varsity team has two home games left this spring.)
Yet school officials see a wider potential use for its 34,000-seat stadium off Rowe Boulevard.
The stadium will play host to prominent regional events this year, such the NCAA women's lacrosse final four and the world women's lacrosse championships.
They also want it to accommodate more local high school events.
"We want to allow the community to become more involved," Gladchuk said.
To do that, Navy went shopping for a more durable surface that could be used day in and day out without maintenance. They decided on FieldTurf, which is said to have a texture and response similar to grass.
FieldTurf is made up of synthetic blades that are held up by an artificial dirt composed of silica and rubber. The artificial surface has been installed at three athletic fields on campus.
More than 20 NCAA Division I-A schools use FieldTurf for their football stadiums, not to mention at least two dozen professional football and baseball teams.
The Navy made the official announcement March 30. Two days later, Oregon State said it would install the surface at its football stadium.
"I'm not sure what it is," said Navy football coach Paul Johnson, whose team opens at home Sept. 10 against Stanford. "It wasn't my preference."
Johnson, however, understood that for Navy to accommodate more events at the stadium, a more-durable surface would be needed.
"I don't think it's a problem for football," he said.
The stadium will be rededicated during the Oct. 8 football game against Air Force.
Gladchuk called the decision to switch from grass a "compromise," but he said the look of the new turf will fool most spectators.
"If you were 10 feet away, it's like the first fairway at Augusta," he said. "You wouldn't know the difference."