When I began to take photographs of Kansas State and Kansas football and basketball teams as an 18-year-old in 1969, natural grass covered the gridirons, while elevated basketball courts sat atop the dirt floors in both Ahearn Fieldhouse and Allen Fieldhouse. That began to change in 1970 with the installation of artificial turf in KSU Stadium and KU’s Memorial Stadium.
While this was a groundbreaking change for football, all was not right with the transformation. The Topeka Capital-Journal dispatched me to Manhattan on September 5, 1970, for a scrimmage held on the new AstroTurf carpet. My job was to photograph the bright, shiny new turf with Wildcats racing back and forth. First officials had to figure out how to keep the football from rolling from the hash marks to the sidelines every time they spotted the ball.
The old natural grass field absorbed moisture easily, but the new non-porous artificial turf forced installers to raise the field’s crown to allow water to run off to drains lining the sidelines from end zone to end zone behind the team benches. Kansas State’s crown seemed unusually high from the moment I walked into the stadium. Kneeling on one side of the field while pointing a long lens across the field resulted in players being cut off at the knees by the high crown.
The officials seemed unsure how to solve the rolling ball problem, resulting in the funny photograph. Finally, they decided to turn the football sideways and let the centers rotate the ball back for every snap. After the first season, KSU lowered the crown enough to resolve the runaway ball problem.
For the health of the players, advancements in the artificial turf of today are just as dramatic as the look of what is now the enlarged and updated Bill Snyder Stadium when compared to the small stadium of 1970, where footballs once ran away.