Southern Miss is looking for others sites to play its football spring game with the artificial turf set to be replaced at M.M. Roberts Stadium due to tornado damage.
Coach Todd Monken's first spring practice is scheduled to begin on March 19 with the spring game scheduled to be played on April 20.
With the Roberts Stadium turf unlikely to be repaired by the date of the spring game, USM athletic director Jeff Hammond said today that the school is looking at high school stadiums in the Hattiesburg area as potential sites for the game.
Petal High School, which went relatively unscathed during the storm, appears to be the most viable option. Both Hattiesburg and Oak Grove high schools sustained major damage during the Feb. 10 tornado that hit the heart of the city, including the USM campus.
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USM's athletic facilities were at first thought to be unharmed by the tornado, but closer inspection revealed problems with the football field, including broken glass embedded in the surface.
“We discovered hazardous material placed throughout the artificial surface,” Hammond said. “We brought in experts who looked at it. We were really limited in our options. We could possibly take the turf off, but due to age and condition, it wouldn't survive that. It might fall apart.
“We want this to be deliberate. There will be no short cuts. We want it done right. Whatever we want to do next, we want a long-term solution.”
Hammond also hopes to address a drainage problem that has plagued the Roberts Stadium playing surface in recent seasons. Heavy rain during last season's Louisville game caused large puddles of water to gather on the turf, making the field almost unplayable.
“We don't want another Louisville,” Hammond said.
USM already had plans to raise the money necessary to replace the stadium's turf prior to the tornado damage. The goal was to raise $750,000.
Thanks to the tornado damage, insurance will pay for the turf replacement up to $390,000.
“I was talking with my wife the other night and we were talking about this tornado,” Hammond said. “We had three people affected in our athletic department family with three homes lost. We looked at each other and said, 'But at the end of the day, we get a new artificial surface.' But we wouldn't want another tornado. We would've rather raised the money.”