GLENDALE, Ariz. (KFOR) – Call it “turf wars” or “grass-gate” – there’s been an update in the ongoing saga regarding the turf in this year’s Super Bowl that OSU had a role in developing.

After the big game – players and fans were vocal in their criticism of the quality of the field.

But now – a former NFL groundskeeper says the blame does not lie with Oklahoma State University.

OSU wasn’t just on – it was part of one of the biggest stages of the year – developing the turfgrass used in this year’s Super Bowl.

But if you asked the internet during the Super Bowl – they had strong opinions about what turned out to be a slippery surface.

“People ask – ‘What’d you think about it? What’d you think about it?'” said Dr. Dennis Martin, a professor at OSU and an OSU Extension Turfgrass Specialist. “Well, we weren’t actually there but we do know about some of the traditional challenges for dressing up these fields.” 

He says OSU was not in charge of maintaining or installing the field – but sometimes those challenges can include the painting of the field and in this case, chunks of rye grass being torn up.

“As you indicated, the field was a bit slick but perennial rye grass was used as an overseeded grass,” Martin said. “Even in Arizona, that time of year they get some chilly nights, can get some frost, so the Bermuda would run out of color. So they do use rye grass as an overseeding. We were just a little surprised of course that the rye grass chunks tore up.”

However, it appears now that OSU is getting some vindication from a longtime Super Bowl groundskeeper.

In a recent interview with ESPN, 94-year-old George Toma, also known as “The Sodfather,” said the surface wasn’t actually the problem. He says the field was overwatered.  

Toma told ESPN the field was watered the Wednesday before Super Bowl Sunday and not given enough time to dry outside before it was rolled in the stadium.

As for the future of Tahoma 31 – OSU is still hopeful. 

“Even since the Super Bowl event, we’ve learned of new installs on golf courses in different areas,” Martin said. “The NFL does make its own decisions. I’m sure they’re taking into consideration what they witnessed there and the visibility of it. We trust they’ll always make great decisions, whether that’s with our grass or another.”

The day after the Super Bowl, the NFL issued a statement, saying “The State Farm Stadium field surface met the required standards for the maintenance of natural surfaces, as per NFL policy. The natural grass surface was tested throughout Super Bowl week and was in compliance with all mandatory NFL practices.”

OSU also released a statement following the game:

As a land-grant university, our mission is to advance science and extend knowledge. The bermudagrass variety Tahoma 31 took over a decade to develop before its release in 2017. This and other similar varieties are known for their exceptional winter hardiness, spring green-up, turf density, improved water use efficiency and traffic damage recovery. 

While OSU scientists developed and patented Tahoma 31, they had no role in creating or preparing the field for Super Bowl LVII. 

Tahoma 31 was used for the base layer, but the field also was seeded with a top layer of ryegrass, which has slick leaf surfaces when damp. That and other factors may have contributed to traction issues during play. 

Notably, the Philadelphia Eagles played on Tahoma 31 at Lincoln Financial Field during the 2022 season, including the NFC Championship game two weeks ago. Tahoma 31 is widely used at high-profile sites across the country, including the Arkansas Razorbacks’ stadium, which was recognized as the 2022 College Football Field of the Year by the Sports Field Management Association.

Oklahoma State University

Toma told ESPN he’s not blaming rye grass for the slippery field – as he’s used it for 27 Super Bowls, adding that this Super Bowl will be his last – saying, “I can’t take it anymore.”