KNOXVILLE - You might not put much thought into the surface you throw a football or kick a soccer ball on.
Is it Bermuda? Kentucky bluegrass? Or perhaps artificial turf?
Paying attention to how that bit of green affects your safety and performance is what researchers at the University of Tennessee hope to do at a brand new complex.
The proposed facility could bring the world’s first sports complex focused on athlete safety and performance research to Knoxville.
Researchers with the UT Institute of Agriculture unveiled their big ideas at a forum Tuesday.
"Our goal is to have multiple outdoor fields: soccer, baseball, football, rugby, lacrosse,” explained Dr. John Sorochan.
As a distinguished professor of plant scientists and advisor of turf to the NFL, Sorochan knows how every piece — even down to the grass — is crucial for a game.
"I grew up playing sports, very passionate about sports, and my area of research I do is on the grass, artificial turf and how to make them better,” said Sorochan.
"We would have different surfaces where athletes could come in and do 40-yard dashes or shuttle runs, three cone drills, try on different shoes on different surfaces, wet or dry and see how they perform better,” said Sorochan.
The entire project is estimated at $43 million. Not only would it be a place of study, but the facility would also be used for sporting events from a youth to professional scale.
Right now, the university already researches turf; measuring sustainability and wear and tear.
The proposed complex would allow them to experiment on a much larger scale.
“They can come to this facility and for instance play in a soccer tournament for a weekend and we can measure them before they started playing and see what their capacity is,” said Sorochan.
The multiple fields and different turfs would create a space to study the impact the surface has on players' safety.
“Guys always say our legs, our feet, that’s our moneymaker, if you can't run and you can't change direction, you can't play the game,” said Ernie Conwell, former NFL player and now Director of Affairs for the NFL Players Association.
"If anyone watches pregame, the players are going out to primarily check the field out, we also go out and warm up but often times look at the field to see what kind of cleats do I need to wear?”
As both a former player and father of four, he knows how important the field can be for athletes.
"As a parent you want to know is that field safe, has it been maintained what are some of the standards are there standards or is just a field that gets put out and there are going to be 50 games on it this weekend,” said Conwell.
While it’s still an idea looking to grow, the root of it all is to make sports safer for all ages.
"We have a mentality that there is a key to win, but there is a sacrifice of overdoing athletes,” said Sorochan.
As of right now there are no immediate plans on construction and location, but it is expected to be built here in Knoxville.
The facility would also include locker rooms, training rooms and indoor sports facilities such as a basketball court.
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