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How SubAir Systems helps keep Alabama football’s bermudagrass in top-notch condition

October 18, 2023  - By
(Photo Courtesy: Trey Crabill)

Opened in 1929, Alabma’s Bryant-Denny Stadium has used a natural grass playing surface since 1991. As part of the 2023 installation of NorthBridge bermudagrass, the university also added artificial turf sidelines. (Photo Courtesy: Trey Crabill)

Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., received a major facelift over the college football offseason. Paired with its new NorthBridge bermudagrass playing surface, the home of the University of Alabama football team received new drainage and a control system from SubAir Systems.

The system includes 12 wireless sensors and a pair of wired oxygen sensors, facilitating water drainage and pushing air into the root zone to enable turf growth.

Trey Crabill

Trey Crabill

“(The system) allows us to take instantaneous live field data and maintain those ideal conditions throughout that playing surface,” Trey Crabill, vice president of U.S. sports for SubAir Systems, says. “All the information we accrue is stored and can be analytically reviewed by us and these organizations to refine and pinpoint changes as the field adapts and grows.”

The proof is in the data

Data availability plays a crucial role in keeping a sports field in top-notch condition, Crabill says. The 14 sensors installed at Bryant-Denny allow the turf management team constant access to data such as moisture levels, surface temperature, salinity and oxygen levels.

“Alabama likes to play at 15 percent moisture levels, and they want that consistency every game of the season,” he adds. “(With our system) they can ensure that, by oxygenating the root zone. It helps create a healthy environment, and the field can recover a lot faster than would otherwise.”

(Photo courtesy of SubAir Systems)

In addition to control panels, John Dewitt, director of sports grounds for the University of Alabama, can access field data from any connected device, such as a phone or tablet. (Photo courtesy of SubAir Systems)

According to Crabill, it didn’t take long for the system to prove useful for the Crimson Tide. In week one of the season, it rained in Tuscaloosa the hours before kickoff. Crabill says this gave the newly installed SubAir system a chance to prove its worth.

“The stadium got .63 inches of rain before the game, so the management team ran the SubAir for 17 minutes, and that moisture level went from 25.1 moisture to 16 percent,” he says. “When the system is running, we’re pulling an additional 10 inches of water column through the profile.”

Crabill adds that the heating component of the SubAir system just recently went into use, as temperatures started to dip into the 40s. With the help of the company’s Forced Air Heating system, he says the field is maintaining a temperature of 70 degrees.

(Photo Courtesy: Trey Crabill)

The system installed at Bryant-Denny Stadium allows for the grounds crew to provide oxygen and heat to the playing surface, while also serving as a drainage mechanism. (Photo Courtesy: Trey Crabill)

“(Alabama head coach Nick) Saban does not like to overseed going into the winter months,” he says. “So, the system, along with the turf management team led by John DeWitt (director of sports grounds), can keep their bermudagrass greener longer into the winter months.”

Team building

According to SubAir Systems, Bryant-Denny Stadium adds to its 2022-23 class of installations, which includes Hard Rock Stadium in Miami and Lincoln Field in Philadelphia among others.

The company adds that its SubAir system will also grace the field at the new home of the Buffalo Bills, New Highmark Stadium when it opens ahead of the 2026 NFL season.

“We want to ensure that when guys come around the corner, they’re not slipping when making cuts. Our goal is for them to have a firm place to put their feet,” Crabill says. “Ultimately, given that these guys are very high-performance athletes, we want to provide a technological system that enables them to compete at the highest level and their best or their highest capacity.”

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About the Author:

Rob DiFranco is Athletic Turf's associate editor. A 2018 graduate of Kent State University, DiFranco holds a bachelor's degree in journalism. Prior to Athletic Turf, DiFranco was a sports reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio

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