Image: David McNew

Image: David McNew

Neal E. Boudette, The Wall Street Journal, Updated August 20, 2013


In the past decade fake-grass fields like those the pros play on have gone mainstream, turning up not just in big stadiums but at high schools, city parks, even some middle schools, usually at a cost of $400,000 to $700,000. But dozens of fields installed between 2006 and 2009 were flawed and are now falling apart, forcing schools to replace playing surfaces they once thought would last a decade or more.

At South Pasadena High School in California, workers have recently put the finishing touches on a new carpet. It replaces one that was first installed in 2007 but developed bare spots where the fake blades of grass and withered away.

Mark Zalin, the athletic director for the South Pasadena school district, said many bare spots had been repaired for a while with patches that were sewn into the old carpet. “It looked like your jeans when you have rips and you put patches on them,” he said. He’s added the replacement work was scheduled so that it would be ready for mid-August, when the South Pasadena football team, the Tigers, started practice.

The cause of the trouble is the subject of a court battle between FieldTurf and Royal TenCate, a Dutch company that manufactured the grass-like fibers used in the fields. In a complaint filed in the federal district court of Northern Georgia, FieldTurf alleges some of the fiber TenCate supplied in the last decade was made from substandard polymer and wasn’t treated with enough sun screen to prevent the plastic from deteriorating under the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The complaint says as many as 167 fields could be affected.

The problem appears limited to high schools and smaller colleges that use the fields night and day and for multiple sports. Many FieldTurf playing surfaces used by pro teams and big-time college football teams were made from the same materials but tend to be used less and therefore show much less wear.

For now, most schools say the field problem is more of a logistical headache than a financial burden. FieldTurf is replacing many fields at no cost under the warranty it provided with the original purchase, although replacement fields are of the same design and come with no new eight-year warranty.

In some cases, disputes over a replacement have escalated. Father Ryan High School in Nashville, Tenn., has filed a suit in a county court to force FieldTurf to replace the turf that was installed in 2009. The suit says the school’s field began deteriorating by 2011, and alleges FieldTurf installed a defective surface even after learning of flaws that had caused other fields to fail.

Other schools that have had fields replaced under warranty include St. Thomas High School in Houston, Avon High School in Ohio, and Lake Brantley High School in Florida.