Thousands of San Francisco 49ers fans were present for the final open practice of the season, but their experience was cut short today. According to multiple reports from media on site for the practice session, Stevie Johnson fell hard after slipping on a simple out-pattern during a 7-on-7 drill. Harbaugh then brought the entire team to the middle of the field and abruptly left with no explanation.
Following the team's departure, an announcement was made that practice was over and fans in attendance would get free admission to the 49ers museum.
According to Matt Maiocco, both Harbaugh and general manager, Trent Baalke were clearly agitated by the condition of the field. Apparently, even routine plays resulted in huge divots and there were patches of sod that were still discolored from the 49ers' game Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
Among the controversies in sports, the turf vs. grass debates are not the loudest nor the meanest. However, the debate has been among the most persistent, lasting decades. Depending who you ask, many claim one surface is superior to the other. However, from my research on the subject, grass has a tiny advantage over artificial turf from an injury standpoint.
Field conditions are a concern for any franchise and in April, the 49ers opted for sod, known as Bandera Bermuda. Apparently, the selection of turf was based on several factors, including "environmental conservation, macro/micro-climate, frequency of additional event scheduling, and player safety." It appears the grass was specifically chosen to withstand multiple events.
It is frustrating the 49ers are facing a safety risk this early in the 2014 season due to field conditions at the new stadium. After reports emerged the practice field had been deemed unsafe, several on Twitter advised the sod probably had insufficient time to set. That, coupled with the rigorous events at the new stadium, has not allowed the grass to properly root.
Considering the tremendous planning that went into every detail of the $1.3 billion dollar stadium, it would seem installing and maintaining a safe condition on the field would have taken more priority. 49ers issued the following statement Wednesday night:
"The 49ers organization would like to apologize to any fans who were inconvenienced by today's practice ending early. We have determined the appropriate measures necessary to have the field ready for Sunday and look forward to hosting the San Diego Chargers."
While the condition of the field was bad enough for the team to move its practice, it appears it will not prevent the 49ers from hosting the exhibition game against the San Diego Chargers. If it were not for the event scheduled for today, the practice session would not have occurred on the field at Levi's Stadium. Maybe there's a little silver lining to be had. If anything, the 49ers brass have been made aware of the current field conditions and can make necessary arrangements to ensure the field is usable and safe.