SUNY Morrisville turned a field upgrade into a brand facelift
Matthew Grawrock knew he needed to do something to stand out. As the director of athletics of the SUNY Morrisville Mustangs—part of a state-funded college system of 64 institutions, Grawrock had been brainstorming on how to bring uniqueness to the NCAA Division III SUNY school while still staying within the SUNY color scheme and branding.
“I looked at it as we had a brand that didn’t stick out,” Grawrock said. “There are about 19-20 SUNY schools with athletics, including ours, that have green as a primary color. There are two or three schools with a horse as a logo.”
A school with a horse logo and a green-dominant color scheme, The SUNY Delhi Broncos, was less than 90 minutes from the Morrisville campus.
He added, “And, quite literally, it is easy to get us confused. It’s easy for us to get lost.”
When some earmarked funds opened up to allow Grawrock to update the school’s athletic facilities, he knew he needed to be bold. With a few options to decide on, the athletics department chose resurfacing the field turf of Drake Field, which hosts the football, soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey teams. The old turf was installed in 2006 and was fairly run-of-the-mill.
Black Is Bold
What started as a joke turned into reality. Grawrock recalled jokingly offering up the idea of a black field turf to some of his athletic staff. But once the laughs wore off, the idea remained stuck in the mind of the Mustangs’ athletic administration.
The initial–and obvious–pushback was the question of the heat emanating from the black turf in the summer and early fall months. But it was members of the athletic training staff who found a study from Penn State’s Center for Sports Surface Research on the surface temperature of the synthetic turf that showed a nominal difference between green and black field fibers.
“The bottom line is that turf is hot,” Grawrock said. “It doesn’t matter the color, it’s just hot. You add those black rubber pellets and it’s a hot field. The athletic training staff looked at it and it felt like a manageable number to work with. Our plans to navigate any additional heat-related issues include additional water jugs or ice baths set up.”
He added, “Coincidentally, one of the things that we saw from the study was that lighter fielders over a longer period of time actually tend to be hotter.”
The bold decision to go with a black field turf aligned with Grawrock’s goal of rebranding the athletic program overall. The new design features white traditional markings for football, red markings for men’s lacrosse, powder blue for women’s lacrosse, lime green for soccer, and yellow for field hockey. But black and white will serve as the new primary color scheme of the Mustangs with green serving as an accent color, as the department puts the finishing touches on a logo rebranding.
“There’s a lot of competition for a kid to go to a SUNY school. What are we doing to make ourselves a little more recognizable,” Grawrock said.
And since the field was finished in mid-July, the NCAA Division III school has received an abundance of attention from student-athletes and outsiders alike.
“‘You mean I’d be playing on a black field?’”
That was the response Grawrock would get from student-athletes after showing them the field renderings. And while there was excitement on campus about the radical change to Drake Field, there was hesitation from the outside world. National media outlets like ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo! Sports, OutKick, The Daily Mail, and Barstool Sports all questioned the decision to go with black, bringing up the fear of heat-related illness and injuries that might occur—particularly during the humid summer months that occur in upstate New York.
“You know, today was 76 degrees,” Grawrock told Coach&AD during a July interview. “And while everyone talks about the added heat during the summer months, we still play football and soccer in late November, and lacrosse in the early spring. Maybe added heat is a benefit.”
He added, “I would never have put something together that would have significantly impacted, ruined, or hurt our student-athletes in any way, shape, or form.”
Once the internet and social media got their hands on the story, Grawrock could only roll with the punches. After all, he did want to make a big impression—whether he anticipated this sort of viral reaction or not.
There was no planned release of this announcement. There were no hype videos created to celebrate the unveiling. There was only an organic response to SUNY Morrisville’s head coach tweeting a photo of the field. Grawrock expected some of the niche outlets that specialize in covering athletic facilities to be interested in the update, but not the virality that ensued in a 48-hour span.
“We really did not think it would go anywhere beyond that,” he said.
But Grawrock knows there is some truth to the adage, any press is good press—even in 2023.
“I don’t know how many people knew about Morrisville [before this.] And, to be honest, I don’t think we’re getting this sort of reaction if we just replaced our old field with another green field turf.”
The new field and new logo will coincide with the men’s and women’s soccer and lacrosse teams joining a new conference in 2023, leaving the United East Conference for the North Atlantic Conference—representing a fresh start, of sorts, for the Mustangs.
Football will begin its eighth season as a member of the Empire 8 in 2023, alongside field hockey which remains a member of the State University of New York Athletic Conference.
Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic that’s exactly what Morrisville was looking for. Grawrock saw the opportunity to be bold and parlayed the upgrades to Drake Field with an overhaul of the Mustangs Athletics’ aesthetic before joining the new conference.
“We knew we had this chance to combine a logo and field. We wanted to stick out and be different, and go in a different direction that keeps us strong and moving forward after COVID,” Grawrock said.