Digging in the dirt
It used to be that during the early part of the NFL regular season, Raiders home games had a special form of home field advantage. Thanks to baseball and football seasons overlapping for 6-8 weeks, both the Raiders and A’s had to play under less-than-ideal conditions. The A’s dealt with football cleats trampling the grass, whereas the Raiders had to overcome a football field which was largely dominated by the dirt baseball infield. A few years after moving back to Oakland, the Raiders drafted Florida State kicker Sebastian Janikowski, whose impressive left leg could power kickoffs and long field goals regardless of the quality of surface. Other teams’ kickers who usually kicked on well-manicured grass or ever perfect artificial turf often couldn’t adjust, ruining their accuracy and/or distance.
Last night, the dirt infield bit the Raiders more than once. Longsnapper Jon Condo was inadvertently kneed in the head in the 2nd quarter, forcing the Raiders to use backup linebacker Travis Goethel as the longsnapper (teams carry one due to specialization). Goethel, who hadn’t done any longsnapping since high school, proceeded to botch two snaps to All Pro punter Shane Lechler, causing Lechler to be unable to get off two punts, which then translated to good field position and eventual field goals by the Chargers.
The NFL has long known about the suboptimal field conditions, and has made it clear that it wants the Raiders in a football stadium in the future, not a multipurpose stadium. That may seem like a no-brainer, but you have to think that the league was taking notes, with an eye towards really pressing the case when it talks to Oakland and Alameda County officials in the future. At the very least it gives the Raiders some ammunition to advocate to cease the stadium-sharing agreement with the A’s once both teams’ leases end in 2013, and really, could you blame them if they did?
The A’s will also have something to say about this, since they have complained loudest about the field. That puts the Coliseum Authority in the unenviable position of trying to cater to both teams while they are at odds over this very basic, fundamental problem. Key to this is the cost of doing the frequent conversions from baseball to football and back. To get a better understanding of what this entails, watch the video below from several years ago, when Brodie Brazil was working for KICU-36.
The conversion from baseball to football and back costs $250,000 every time, and the cost is borne by the Coliseum Authority, not the teams. Chances are that the Authority, looking to reduce its operating costs while it services $20 million per year in debt for Mount Davis, will want either or both teams to chip in for the conversions. During a calendar year we can count on the conversion happening at least four times, twice in preseason and twice during the regular season. With the A’s making a pennant run, there’s the distinct possibility of a fifth conversion happening this year: October 21 for the Raiders game vs. the Jaguars. The late October date is even more sensitive than September or early October because it aligns with the deep postseason for MLB. According to MLB’s postseason schedule, 10/21 is the date of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. And since seven game series are in a 2-3-2 format, it’s likely that a Game 6 in Oakland would also be knocked out. The conversion process takes 24-48 hours to complete just from one sport to the other, so if we get to the point of watching the A’s in the ALCS (knock on wood), MLB and the NFL will have a scheduling nightmare on its hands. That is unless the A’s enter the playoffs as a wildcard, in which case they wouldn’t have home field advantage past the wild card playoff game and would only play Games 3, 4, and 5 at home.
If you’re wondering why the conversions cost so much, consider this: crews come in and effectively build a 4,000-seat temporary stadium inside the Coliseum every time, then dismantle it. Add the extra effort to replace grass, remove/replace tarps, and paint/repaint lines on the field. Cranes and bobtails run all over the Coliseum’s B Lot, moving and arranging the individual seating section pieces. After watching some of the work in seeming slow-mo, I’m surprised it doesn’t cost more.