Linc's structure, playing surface a bigger problem than family-friendly atmosphere

Linc's structure, playing surface a bigger problem than family-friendly atmosphere

When a team's home losing streak spans beyond both a Roman and Football calendar year, people tend to take notice. And when some of them believe the underlying reason is the owner’s insistence on turning what used to be the league’s toughest place to play (the Vet) to, basically, a country club, (the Linc), they start calling up talk radio and complaining. Loudly.

All told, when it comes to the Eagles slide – nine games, beginning with a 26-23 overtime loss on Oct. 14 last year to the eventual 4-12 Lions – you could argue the Linc is the problem.

But not for its cozy, family-friendly feel.

For its acoustics and playing surface.

First, there’s the Linc’s open-air structure. Ideally, it would’ve been built as a dome. (To that end, if elected commissioner of the world, my first act may be to put every relevant professional and college sporting event in a dome. I digress…) Problem is, building a stadium with a roof, even a retractable one, is significantly more expensive. Pennsylvania taxpayers put up $85 million to fund the Lincoln Financial Field construction project, eventually valued at $512 million. Imagine the price tag had there been a roof.

Why a dome? It shelters you from the elements and exposes your opposition to relentless noise, both of which should translate to team success. At least in theory – the net effect is a tough to quantify. Still, Eagles fans who think the lack of rowdiness at the Linc directly impacts the scoreboard would agree, bottling up sports' most passionate fan base couldn’t hurt.

But having a roof isn’t the only way to a create stadium pulse.

Take this, from TIME Magazine, on CenturyLink Field, home of the Seahawks:

While the vocal cords of Seahawks fans surely deserve credit for piercing ears, so do the designers of CenturyLink Field. Even though it’s a mostly open-air stadium, the building traps noise. … Two huge canopies — one on the east side of the stadium, the other on the west side — cover 70% of the seats.

“The main thing that creates noise is any type of overhanging structure that reflects sounds back into the stadium,” says Andrew Barnard, a research associate at Penn State‘s Applied Research Laboratory, specializing in structural acoustics.

Seattle’s stadium has two additional overhangs, functioning as the bottom of the upper seating bowl, that cover the lower seating bowls. “Sound also reflects off the bottom of the upper deck, and back onto the field,” says Barnard.

Maybe the most important function of that structure:

“Fans get caught up in it,” says Stewart. “They experience an intense increase in the sound levels that they would not normally experience in an outdoor environment, and are energized by it.” As a result, they scream even louder.

Only thing sciencey about the Linc’s structure is wind turbines. Yay?

In fairness, even the Seahawks didn’t see the "12th Man" coming. The architect, Jon Niemuth, called the effect a “happy accident.” Tough to crush Jeffrey Lurie and Co. there.

The decision on the playing surface, however, is questionable. The Linc uses a reinforced natural grass surface, called DD GrassMaster, in which artificial fibers stabilize the grass blades and roots. Some great work by IgglesBlog in 2008 delves deeper, exposing the “real source” of the problem: the field’s absurd usage, given that it doubles as home of the Temple Owls and, as we learned over the summer, concerts.

But whether the grass would hold up better if not for ownership’s ambition to, you know, make money and stuff misses the point. It shouldn't have been grass at all. It should've been field turf, the same surface used in three of the four stadiums built since the Linc. (The fourth is the retractable grass inside Arizona’s University of Phoenix Stadium, clearly not practical for Philadelphia.) And in three of the four built before it.

Especially for a cold-weather city in a sport that, at this point, plays warm-weather football.

Even if the NFL didn’t implement the rule changes that, some say, made the NFL “the arena league” until 2005, two years after the Linc opened and four years after the financing was approved, the Eagles had a progressive, pass-first coach in 1999. They didn’t have the same speed they do now, but, for a coach/front office that insisted they didn’t need elite wide receivers to be successful, you’d think they’d do whatever they could to… enhance the effectiveness of the scrubs they trotted out there.

They didn’t. So, we have this.

On complaints that the Linc is calm, safe, well-policed: if you think this, this, this, this, this, this and this -- and this and this -- are good, swell, worth team wins, something to strive for, you have issues. You also don't seem to care too much about eradicating the stigma about Philly sports fans that's persisted for, like, ever.

As for the instability at quarterback the past few years: Even the Cardinals, fixed with the league’s most active turnstile under center (Palmer, Kolb, Skelton, Lindley, Hoyer, Bartel), have managed to go 12-7 and 5-1 in OT at home since 2011 with teams that won a flimsy. 8, 5 and, now, 3 games. At minimum, you should run into 2/3 home wins per season… on accident. That’s how awfully, marvelously bad this has been for Philly.

What’s sad is, if the Eagles still played the same brand of football they did in the early part of the decade, both points would be moot. Their defense would thrive on what may be unofficially the sloppiest field in football. (Of note, the Eagles were 30-18 in the regular season 5-2 in the playoffs under the late Jim Johnson thru 2008.) And fans would ballyhoo loud as ever, helping fuel a team that was already likely to win.

(Enrico's note: not all of us here at the Level believe the Birds should play in a dome or on turf. This is the opinion of the writer of this article, Matt.)

Follow Matt on Twitter: @MKH973 Catch him every Saturday from 12-2 on 97.3 ESPN-FM. 

 

 

Phillies-Mets 5 things: All the pressure on Mets, Gsellman

Phillies-Mets 5 things: All the pressure on Mets, Gsellman

Phillies (70-85) at Mets (82-73)
1:10 p.m. on CSN

After two rough losses for the Phillies and their pitching staff, the offense picked them up and came through with a 10-8 win. 22-year-old Jake Thompson takes the hill this afternoon while Robert Gsellman starts a crucial game for the Mets.

Here are five things to watch on Sunday.

1. All the pressure on New York, Gsellman
The Mets remain 0.5 games up on the final National League playoff spot. 

While their pitching staff was falling apart at the seams going into (and during) this series, the one saving grace for New York was its soft schedule, facing the Phillies seven times in its last 10. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals have to deal with the MLB best Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants end the year vs. the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers.

However, a loss on Saturday (thanks in part to Noah Syndergaard getting scratched with strep throat) puts the Mets in a precarious position. They're tied in the loss column with the Cards and Giants while fighting for one of two playoff spots and their rotation most closely resembles their Triple A team from Opening Day. 

Gsellman is one of those pitchers who started the year never having tasted the major leagues. In fact, he started the year in Double A. His first career start came at Citi Field last month against the Phillies and resulted in his first career loss after he allowed four runs in six innings. 

He's been better since that start, carrying a 3.13 ERA into Sunday. The 23-year-old righty will likely start vs. the Phillies again next weekend, meaning the Mets' season rides in part on a rookie with just 31 2/3 innings in the majors. 

2. Young man on a roll
While Gsellman lost his last start, Thompson has won his last two starts. The young righty is on a hot streak as his season nears an end.

Thompson's ERA has goe down in each of his last five starts, a stat made less impressive by the fact that he began that run with a 9.78 ERA. He has gone at least five innings in his last eight starts and has shown glimpses of why he was such a valued prospects.

In September, Thompson is 2-1 with a 3.09 ERA over four starts. He's still allowed 33 baserunners in 23 1/3 innings during that span, but it's been much better than his lackluster August.

While Thompson is in line to start next weekend against the Mets as well, today could be his final start of the season. He has already set a career-high in innings and the Phillies may not want to extend him one more start.

3. What to look for in the season's final week
Including Sunday, the Phillies have just seven games left in their season. They're eliminated from playoff contention, but there's still plenty to watch as the Phils take on Braves and Mets.

Ryan Howard's final fairwell: With his five-year, $125 million deal coming to a close this year, Howard is almost certainly playing his final games in Philadelphia next week. He'll get plenty of starts and may even face the Mets' Bartolo Colon, who he's smacked three home runs off of in his career.

Playing spoiler: As mentioned above, the Mets have everything on the line both today and next weekend in Philadelphia. There are few better ways to end a postseason-less season than knocking a rival out of playoff contention.

More looks at the kids: Roman Quinn's emergence over the last two weeks has been fun to watch and Jorge Alfaro may get more chances in the last seven games. Beyond them, Thompson, Tommy Joseph and others close out a nice first season. 

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Maikel Franco has looked more like his 2015 self over the last few weeks. He's batting .310 in September with three home runs, matching his August total. His 15 RBI this month are his most in a month other than July. 

Mets: Asdrubal Cabrera has been on fire this month as well. After battting .405 in August, he's batting .333 and has five home runs, including the walk-off homer on Thursday. He's slugging .628 this month after putting up a .786 slugging percentage in August. 

5. This and that
• In Gsellman's August start vs. the Phillies, he only allowed one run while he was in the game. However, he left the bases loaded in the 7th with no outs before A.J. Ellis knocked in the decisive two-run double to give the Phils a lead they would not relinquish.

• Six different Phillies batters had hits off Gsellman, including Jimmy Paredes who went 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI. 

• Despite pitching injuries, the Mets have the eighth-best team ERA in September with a 3.64 average. The Phillies are 15th in baseball with a 4.10 ERA this month.

• The Phillies are 6-9 against the Mets this year. They're already ensured of a better finish than last year's 5-14 mark vs. New York.

Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, 24, killed in boating accident

uspresswire-marlins-jose-fernandez.jpg
USA Today Images

Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, 24, killed in boating accident

MIAMI -- The Miami Marlins have announced the death of ace right-hander Jose Fernandez.

The U.S. Coast Guard says Fernandez was one of three people killed in a boat crash off Miami Beach early Sunday.

The Marlins did not immediately release details, other than releasing a statement confirming the death of one of the top pitchers in baseball.

In the statement, the Marlins say they are "devastated by the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very difficult time."

The Marlins' game Sunday at home against the Atlanta Braves has been cancelled.