CINCINNATI – The month of August will be quite busy around the University of Cincinnati campus. That’s certainly no surprise with classes starting Aug. 22.
But, the confluence of UC football and FC Cincinnati schedules have officials planning for a flurry of activity at Nippert Stadium at least into mid-September and possibly later.
UC and FC Cincinnati have a coordinating monthly schedule and ongoing conversations regarding the stadium, which is the second-oldest playing site in college football.
Practice availability between the teams and having the correct FieldTurf surface markings have already been discussed.
“The transitions will happen and they will happen seamlessly,” said Jeff Berding, president and general manager of FC Cincinnati. “To be fair, the transition the first time – there is a little more latitude in there if you will schedule-wise. We’ll learn from that. It probably gets a bit better the second time and it gets a little bit better the third time.”
Convertible end zones and the C-paw center logo pieces are expected to arrive later this month or early August and the panels will be inserted into the field for football. Carts are also being manufactured to move the turf rolls around efficiently.
Brendan Fouracre, UC’s senior associate athletic director/facilities and operations, said there will be test runs later this summer.
“We just sat down with FC Cincinnati personnel and we mapped out the calendar for the month of August and into September and we’re looking forward to October too – hopefully FC Cincinnati continues to win and has the option of some home playoff games,” Fouracre said. “We’ve been talking about those things and realize it’s coming up quickly now.”
There are other options for practice availability including Sheakley Athletics Center and Gettler Stadium, which recently received a new state-of-the-art turf surface. FC Cincinnati also has a grass field option at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy on Snider Road.
When an overlap in practice time does occur, Berding said it’s possible FC Cincinnati practices in the morning at Nippert Stadium with football lines while UC football is in the afternoon. Or FC Cincinnati may choose CHCA since it may more conducive to late-season training on a grass surface.
“There is nothing we haven’t thought through,” Berding said.
Berding and UC football information director Ryan Koslen told WCPO.com this week both parties understand Nippert Stadium is the home of UC football first and foremost. Berding said the relationship with UC has been excellent throughout the spring and summer.
The Bearcats open the football season Sept. 1 against University of Tennessee at Martin at 7 p.m., and FC Cincinnati has a home game against St. Louis FC Sept. 5.
UC plays another Thursday night game two weeks later (Sept. 15) against Houston (7:30 p.m. kickoff). The turnaround is quicker this time with FC Cincinnati hosting Orlando City at 7 p.m. Sept. 17.
The United Soccer League concludes the regular season Sept. 25 and the postseason potentially starts Sept. 27. The top eight teams from the Eastern Conference and Western Conference advance to the playoffs.
FC Cincinnati is third this week in the Eastern Conference standings (16-9 record), so the postseason is certainly a probable scenario.
The USL mandates that league stadiums play on a field with no football lines, according to Perry Van Der Beck, USL’s vice president of competition and operations.
Fouracre says the full changeover for the Nippert playing surface takes 12 to 24 hours depending on factors such as severe weather that may impact the timeframe.
Berding said rain itself isn’t a concern with the transitions, but a severe thunderstorm would obviously impact the working staff.
The stadium staff is aware there are some close events scheduled in September — the month that figures to be the busiest for Nippert.
The postseason is four weeks and the championship game is scheduled between Oct. 20-23. UC plays host to East Carolina Oct. 22 with a time to be determined.
Fouracre said he’s discussed that possibility with his staff and welcomes the continued discussions so there aren’t any surprises.
“If that meant ramping up the labor or working with Pioneer Paints or UBU or turf installers to get here to get it done – tougher things have been accomplished in the world of athletics and turning them around,” Fouracre said. “I’m certain we can get it figured out.”
UC announced the UBU Sports’ Speed M6-M turf product in March. FC Cincinnati financed the turf project and the surface was completed before the home opener in April. Pioneer Paints helps place and remove the markings as needed.
It’s a similar system to what is used at MetLife Stadium for the NFL’s Giants and Jets.
FC Cincinnati fans should feel fortunate to have the Nippert Stadium setup.
Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is the other college football venue used in the 26-team USL.
Goodman Stadium, which holds 15,324, is the home to Bethlehem Steel FC, an expansion team that plays its home games on the natural grass field.
Goodman Stadium hosts Lehigh's football opener at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 3, prior to the soccer team’s game at 3 p.m. Sept. 4. There is also a one-day turnaround Sept. 24-25.
Allen Biddinger, Lehigh’s assistant athletic director for facilities and events, said the staff will take down the goal posts and use green paint to cover the football lines.
Even though the USL mandates no football lines, the weather obviously impact a grass surface more significantly.
“If it’s raining, we are not going to be able to paint,” Biddinger said. "They are just going to have to play with the football lines down.”
That is a very unlikely scenario at Nippert Stadium, which has averaged 16,442 this season.
The highest attended single game occurred May 14 when 23,375 showed up for the 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The USL average attendance is 3,526.
FC Cincinnati is on five three-year rolling agreements with UC for the use of Nippert Stadium with the initial term expiring Dec. 31, 2018.
“We love being at UC,” Berding said. “We think it’s been a big part of our success. Our plan to be there as long as possible.”
High School Football at Nippert
Nippert Stadium will also be the host to high school football games in late August as part of the 19th annual Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown.
ESPN announced last week that St. Xavier plays St. John Bosco (California) at 5 p.m. Aug. 27 on ESPNU. The complete Showdown schedule is expected to be announced July 13, according to organizer Tom Gamble.
That Ohio portion of the showcase traditionally starts the first Wednesday of the season – this year Aug. 24 – and goes through the last full weekend of the month.
In the past, the first few games of the Ohio portion of the schedule have been played at UC’s Sheakley Athletics Center with the Friday and Saturday games scheduled for Nippert Stadium.
The Showdown schedule announcement is about two months later than the typical time and Gamble acknowledged he’s worked out final facility scheduling with UC.
Although FC Cincinnati plays host to the Rochester Rhinos Aug. 24 at Nippert, the high school football games may be played at Sheakley. Parking may be the biggest challenge that night.