Moon: UNF soccer teams could be off campus entire season

Travis Gibson

New grass grows in patches in UNF's soccer field. Photo by Camille Shaw
New grass grows in patches at Hodges Stadium.
Photo by Travis Gibson

The UNF men’s soccer team played its first home conference game six miles away from UNF’s campus.

The game was played at Patton Park. Rowdy UNF students seen regularly at last year’s games at Hodges Stadium were absent. Only a few friends and family members were in the stands to watch UNF take on East Tennessee State Oct. 4.

Last season, a down year in which UNF won four games, the average attendance for a men’s soccer game was 539. The ETSU game had just 238 in the stands.

The result of the ETSU game was a UNF loss, 1-0.

“Its a shame because [the men’s soccer team players] are having a really good season and we could have had some good crowds,” Athletic Director Lee Moon said. Heading into the the ETSU game, the team was 4-2-1.

The UNF women’s soccer team played at Patton Park the previous week.

During halftime, each team retreated to one corner of the field instead of going into a locker room to talk strategy.

Patton Park, home of the First Coast Soccer Association, contains several recreational fields but little room for fans. Now it is the home of two UNF soccer teams — possibly for the entire season.

When asked about the prospect of playing at Hodges Stadium this season, Senior Associate Athletic Director of Facilities and Operations Ervin Lewis said there was a chance it could happen but nothing was definite.

When asked if the teams would be able to play on the field this season Moon said, “No. Well, I doubt it.”

Due to drainage problems, a new drainage system has been installed in UNF's soccer field. Photo by Camille Shaw
Due to drainage problems, a new drainage system has been installed in UNF’s soccer field.
Photo by Travis Gibson

Evan Lawrence, project manager for Besch & Smith Civil Group Inc., the contracting group brought in to make the changes to the field, said he did not know if the field would be ready in time for the final home game Nov. 9.

Lewis and Moon have been overseeing the final stages of the project and are making the final call on whether they the field is fit for play.

Moon said the field is “80 percent” perfect, but seams and dips in the turf make it unfit for play and would put the players at risk for injury.

BACK AND FORTH

Nicole Besch, President of Besch & Smith, said the delay is due to a change in the original contract.

UNF and Besch & Smith agree the contract stated the work was scheduled to be finished by Sept. 12, but Besch said UNF asked for additional electrical work to be added on top of replacing the drainage system and replacing the sod. They agreed to pay more than the original cost of $450,000.

“[UNF] approved additional work but not additional time,” Besch said during an interview with Spinnaker Sports.

Lewis said because Besch & Smith failed to meet its completion date, it has been accumulating a fine of $1,500 daily. As of Oct. 9, the proposed fines would be over $45,000. Lewis said Besch & Smith filed a claim disputing the charges.

In a follow-up email to Spinnaker Sports, Lawrence wrote:

We are legally entitled to additional days for the contract increase authorized by UNF. Besch and Smith has not filed any claims in regards to this project, we have however objected to the assessment of liquidated damages. Besch and Smith filed an objection letter in reference to the Liquidated Damages in an effort to avoid any claims/lawsuits. [sic]

The piping was put into place and the new grass laid out in August. It seemed the field would be ready in time.

Tony Hale, point man for UNF and director of UNF physical facilities, said Mother Nature was a factor as much as technical issues. He said the contractors and the teams are now waiting for the grass to grow in.

The grass put in was growing nicely, but some spots didn’t grow in as well as others and the areas were too large to let slide by, Hale said.

The contractors see it differently.

“All of the grass installed on this project meets the specifications in the contract documents but the grow-in period is not yet complete due to the extra work,” Lawrence said.

Due to soon-to-be chilly weather, Lewis said the window for grass to grow in is getting smaller and smaller.

TRACK

Hodges Stadium's track cost $2.6 million to build. Photo by Camille Shaw
Hodges Stadium’s track cost $2.6 million to build.
Photo by Camille Shaw

There have been disagreements, even within UNF, on the role the track has played in drainage issues.

“The field has had drainage problems since the track went in,” Hale said.

Besch & Smith disagrees.

“There is no connection with the track and the field. The issue was poor drainage and soil condition,” Lawrence said. Moon agreed the track was not a factor in the drainage issues.

The Olympic-level track, installed in 2008, has hosted multiple NCAA and Atlantic Sun events. The track is one of the best track and field facilities in the country and cost $2.6 million to build, according to UNF. It is a Mondo rubberized track, the same surface that athletes competed on at the 2012 London Olympics.

A $2 million donation from George and Kernan Hodges helped fund construction of the track.

The track was not the first major renovation Hodges had seen. In 2005 when Jacksonville hosted the Super Bowl, the field saw renovations. The NFL paid $100,000 to make renovations to the playing surface and make it suitable for Philadelphia Eagles practices.

The field, originally built in 2004, has seen three major projects in its first nine years of existence, including the current project.

When UNF installed the track it was a part of a $5 million upgrade project to Hodges Stadium that added new lighting, more seats, a new press box and the track.

MAKE IT DRAIN

There was no under-field drainage system in place when the project began. Water was funneled off the playing surface with the help of gravity and a crown in the pitch.

Besch & Smith was hired to install an under-field drainage system and prevent the flooding that plagued UNF soccer players last season.

“The [new] drainage system is great,” Moon said. “We got five inches of rain and the water was gone like that,” Moon said with a snap of his fingers.

Last season both teams dealt with puddles on the pitch hours after rainfall.

The new drainage system includes new soil and grass along with pipes underneath the field that move rainwater outside of the stadium.

HOME IS WHERE THE WIN IS

Home field advantage is not just a myth. It is backed up by numbers. So far this season, UNF has bucked the trend.

Over a 15 year period in Major League Soccer, the home win ratio for teams is 49.4 percent compared to 26.5 percent for away games.

Though UNF has not played many conference opponents this season, soccer teams have posted a combined home record of 4-2-2 this season.

Linda Hamilton, head women’s soccer coach, said she would rather be playing at Hodges but thinks UNF teams hold an advantage because the away teams still have to travel.

Derek Marinato, head men’s coach, takes an ‘it is what it is’ approach to the season. He said the team just has to worry about what it can control and go try to win each game.

FOOT THE BILL

UNF sold 1,786 tickets to soccer games last season. Photo by Camille Shaw
UNF sold 1,786 tickets to soccer games last season.
Photo by Camille Shaw

Money is an issue outside of the nearly half-million dollar construction costs. The games played at Patton Park are free to the public. Fans who want to watch at Hodges must pay $5.

In total 1,786 tickets were sold last season, not including free student tickets. The 1,786 includes tickets varying in prices. Assuming that all tickets were purchased with no discount, the total amount of money from ticket sales was $8,930.

The money issue doesn’t stop there.

The Atlantic Sun verifies with each university in its conference to see if it can host post-season play for soccer, which includes the ability to sell tickets.

Moon said that because of the open layout of Patton Park and the inability sell tickets, UNF would not host any post-season soccer play if Hodges field isn’t ready by the end of the year, further taking money out of UNF’s pocket.

No one knows where exactly the money to fund the project has come from either.

Hale said he did not know exactly where the money was coming from, but he was almost positive it did not come from the athletics department or physical facilities budgets.

Moon is not sure about the origin of the money either. He believes the money came from recreational money appointed by President Delaney.

FUTURE OF FUTBOL

However the conflict between Besch & Smith and UNF plays out, the biggest losers are the fans — especially students living on campus.

At the JU versus UNF volleyball match Friday, a record 1,321 fans were in attendance at UNF Arena, including 583 students. Many could be seen walking from nearby dorm rooms to the arena.

Student attendance has clearly dropped since last season for soccer games. Many students have decided the trip to Patton isn’t worth it. For some freshmen, watching a game miles away from UNF is not an option due to lack of transportation.

What could be the best season in the history of UNF men’s soccer will have to be experienced by some students on a computer screen or smart phone.