INDIANAPOLIS—The NFL will take a more proactive approach to ensuring that teams’ playing fields are in acceptable condition in the aftermath of the January playoff game at FedEx Field in which the state of the playing surface was sharply criticized, a top league official said Thursday.
“I think that instance certainly highlighted the need for us to re-engage and be much more involved in enforcing our current rules and policies,” Ray Anderson, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said at the league’s scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Anderson said the league has left the condition of playing fields “primarily to the clubs over the years.” Teams must certify that the fields in their home stadiums comply with NFL standards.
But Anderson said the league now will be more vigilant in monitoring the state of playing surfaces around the NFL, particularly late in the season in stadiums—like FedEx Field–with natural grass fields. Many of the fields league-wide, Anderson said, also are used for college games and other events.
“We’ve got to be much more attentive to the amount of use that those fields have had, particularly the natural grass fields, and then really be on top of it with regard to making sure they are at maximum playability for NFL purposes,” Anderson said. “So we as a league office have to be more, I think, forceful and we have to make sure that the clubs likewise are paying attention and don’t let things get a little bit out of standards. And that’s what our intentions are. We’re making that very clear.”
Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll called the field at FedEx Field “horrible” after his team beat the Washington Redskins a first-round NFC playoff game there Jan. 6.
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III left that game after re-injuring his right knee and later underwent surgery for tears of his anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments. Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons suffered a torn ACL and torn meniscus in his left knee in that game, although it is not clear if the condition of the field contributed to either injury. Griffin was playing with what had been diagnosed as a mild sprain of the LCL, and remained in the game after a misstep early in the game in which he appeared to aggravate the injury.
Anderson said Thursday he could not speculate on whether the condition of the field contributed to the knee injuries suffered during the game. He said “there was nothing that indicated” beforehand that the field “was unplayable or unsafe.”
The Redskins had beaten the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field a week earlier in the regular season finale to secure the NFC East title.
“I think we played a game on that the week before and there were no complaints,” Anderson said. “There was no complaint about safety. Those fields never look as pretty late in the season because they’re natural grass and they’re subject to the elements. But we certainly had no indication and had no complaints that the field was unsafe, was unplayable…. We did not have that reported to us.”
Anderson said league representatives might conduct spot checks of fields, even when a team is playing on the road, to ensure they are in good condition. The league has the authority, according to Anderson, to order improvements when it believes they are in order.
“We could very much tell them, depending on the condition of the field, that you need to make improvements: ‘You need to re-sod the whole field. [Or] you need to re-sod between the numbers,’ ” Anderson said. “We have the authority and we’ll certainly exercise the authority to do that because we’re not going to put folks intentionally or knowingly on a field that’s substandard.”
The league does not believe that poor field conditions are a widespread problem around the NFL, according to Anderson.
“We have not seen it,” he said. “And a lot of clubs have improved. You may recall a few years ago Pittsburgh seemed to be a place where later in the year you would go the field conditions are a little less than we’d like. And they’ve really, I think most people will acknowledge… improved over the years. You don’t hear that any more. So there are solutions.”
The NFL Players Association previously called on the Redskins to do whatever is necessary to make certain the field is in better condition. Redskins officials have vowed to take appropriate steps, acknowledging that an opportunity was missed to re-sod the field last season. The team has ruled out switching to an artificial playing surface.
According to Anderson, league officials have not had conversations with the Redskins about the specifics of what should be done at FedEx Field.
“We’ve had no conversations with regard to, ‘Okay, here are your options,’ ” Anderson said. “We certainly will stay in touch with them and other clubs more regularly and more forcefully with regard to everybody having shared accountability for these fields being at maximum playability, certainly taking into consideration what the limitations are with weather, etc., things that aren’t under our control.”
The Redskins declined to comment through a spokesman on the NFL’s vow to monitor playing-field conditions more closely.