Columns & Blogs

Grass isn't always greener with artificial turf

Congratulations to the athletic directors and booster members at Meridian and Eagle high schools, you've bought brand new artificial turf.

And an athletic dream for high school football programs, entire seasons of not having to worry about worn-out grass and a place where soccer and lacrosse and band members can practice without tearing up a football field.

But all this does not come without a price — and I'm not talking about the hundreds of thousands of dollars invested now and the millions more to come in future repairs.

No, in the great rush to be the best — plenty of egos were at work on this one, which is why the folks at Mountain View are considering building their own artificial turf fun house (gotta keep up with the Joneses) — you've also financed the down payment on a lifetime of headaches.

The current players, the current boosters and the current administration will likely never have to confront such nuisances. They all seem to be on the same page, at least publicly, about the virtues of such a grand undertaking.

But this does not end well.

It does not end well because people who donate large sums of money more often than not want something for their troubles. They want power or influence or a voice in decisions.

See Washington, D.C. See college campuses throughout the country. See borrowing money from your in-laws.

Money buys influence, and if that ugly time-tested maxim doesn't rear its head this time around, it will soon.

Artificial turf does not last forever — a fact future athletic directors will be faced with in the next decade. They will have to petition future booster clubs for donations to replace the turf, opening other potential conflicts-of-interest. Time and again, decade after decade, schools will have to find well-heeled boosters to finance renovations.

What happens when Booster Moneybags decides Coach Average is just not getting the job done? What happens when Moneybags decides to hold his donation until Average is no longer patrolling the sidelines? What does the athletic director do then?

And the potential for corruption exists in so many other forms — as in who makes teams or who starts or who gets voted all-state?

This is what happens when amateur athletics become corrupted by money. Sometimes, it's no longer about who is better, it's about who is giving the most money.

Think this is some far-fetched hypothetical, far outside of the realm of possibility in Meridian and Eagle?

Think again.

Why would these communities be immune? They certainly weren't immune from the got-to-be-the-best hubris that conceives of building an artificial turf field for high school players.

We've seen what mixing money, influence and athletics has done with AAU basketball. We've seen it infiltrate intercollegiate athletics, where big-time boosters often decide the fate of coaches and athletic directors by writing — or in some cases, not writing — the checks.

When booster clubs are holding bake sales and car washes to raise money for a new set of uniforms or a tackling sled — the kind of stuff boosters have traditionally been involved in — it's pretty easy to tell one overzealous member to buzz off.

But when those overzealous members are contributing thousands of dollars, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of dollars, for the very field you play on, telling them to scram is a wee bit more difficult.

And where does this high school football arms race end? Can we be that far away from a domed stadium for high school football? Can we be that far away from indoor practice facilities and luxury boxes and all of the amenities of college and professional football?

Can we? After all, it's all about the kids, right?

Well, no.

This is, like most everything else, about money and power.

Enjoy the turf, but consider yourselves beholden.