Yale Athletics

Changes to a structure as historic as the 105-year-old Yale Bowl are rare. But for the Elis — who are set to host six football games at the stadium this fall — evolving for the modern game is often necessary.

For the first time since the stadium’s construction in 1914, Yale installed synthetic turf in the arena, digging up natural grass that had deteriorated in recent seasons. Players reacted favorably when news of the turf installation first surfaced, and now that the six-month project is complete, Team 147 says that their new turf was worth it. The Elis’ game feels sharper and safer, and the Bowl’s historic spirit remains.

“So far, the team is generally loving the turf,” captain and wide receiver JP Shohfi ’20 said. “We feel fast on it. The new surface really feels great. Ultimately, we’d love to play on any surface, but avoiding a slippery and muddy field, especially in bad weather, is something we’re excited about.”

Last winter, players told the News that the Bowl’s old grass had been muddy for most of the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Now, Brown is the only school in the Ivy League where   natural grass comprises the football stadium’s playing surface.

Outside of Yale Athletics, some — including School of Public Health professor Vasilis Vasiliou — initially expressed opposition to the construction. At a December city council meeting during which plans for a synthetic turf installation were discussed, Nancy Alderman ’94 FES ’97 filed an official petition objecting to the proposal. However, Yale argued that new turf would decrease its players’ risk of injury.

“Personally, I feel that [the new turf] is way safer than playing on the loose grass [and] sand that we had previously,” quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 said. “In my opinion, I think it looks great, and the turf helps to illuminate the Bowl, giving more energy to everyone playing and watching the game. In return, I think better games will be played on it as slower speeds and slipping will no longer be a factor in the game.”

Kevin Discepolo ’09, assistant athletic director for facilities, operations and events, helped coordinate the Yale Bowl upgrade. Previously, he supported turf field installations at some of the Bulldogs’ other venues, including Yale Field, the home of Yale baseball; DeWitt Stadium, which houses softball; and Reese Stadium, where the lacrosse and soccer programs compete.

Contractors began digging up the grass in February, and a layer of concrete took its place. Workers then laid materials to improve the safety of the field before the actual synthetic turf was placed on top. According to Discepolo, the Yale Bowl’s architecture slightly complicated the process.

“The only variable was that there’s only one access to field level at the Yale Bowl because the Yale Bowl’s over a hundred years old,” Discepolo said. “It’s not properly sized for a full-sized bulldozer or other types of heavy equipment, so [we] had to just use smaller machines. The contractor did an incredible job getting everything done, but it was a unique way to do it.”

Milone & MacBroom, Inc., which has recently worked with Yale Athletics on similar facilities upgrades, designed the Yale Bowl improvements, and construction concluded in time for preseason. The team has been consistently practicing on the new surface since the start of camp on Aug. 23.

In addition to hosting Yale football games, the Bowl was the home field of the New York Giants in 1973 and 1974 while Yankee Stadium underwent a renovation. On 20 occasions, the venue has entertained more than 70,000 spectators, and the Bowl’s charm has ripened with age. Players argue that the new turf has not altered this charisma.

“I would say the aesthetic of the field hasn’t changed,” Shohfi said. “It’s still such a historic stadium. The updates are something everyone can enjoy and appreciate. It’s an honor to step on that field every day regardless of the surface, but it’s cool to see we’re willing to make advancements that players have been looking forward to.”

When the Yale Bowl opened for its first game on Nov. 21, 1914 — a bout between Yale and Harvard — the venue was the largest athletic stadium in the world.

William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu