The San Francisco 49ers are gearing up to play one of the biggest games in franchise history when they battle the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
There’s only one problem according to the 49ers.
While the Chiefs get to practice on the illustrious fields the Raiders use for practice, the 49ers were sent to UNLV to prepare for the field and have voiced their displeasure with the field conditions, citing a clear disadvantage heading into Sunday’s clash.
Sources told CBS Sports some 49ers staffers are not pleased with the practice field at UNLV, where the NFL designated the NFC champion practice during Super Bowl week. At issue, sources say, is the firmness of the natural grass the NFL has laid over UNLV’s artificial turf ahead of the 49ers practicing there.
A 49ers advance group that includes members of the equipment staff and grounds team traveled to Las Vegas last week to check out the facilities. They feel the grass is too soft for the team to practice on, and the team has considered alternatives, sources say.
The San Francisco 49ers players and coaches had not yet visited the field, having just arrived in Las Vegas Sunday around 6:30 p.m. local time. They are scheduled for a walkthrough there Monday afternoon.
Sources say this is not a health-and-safety issue as much as it’s simply a preference issue. Sources say the current surface at UNLV meets all NFL, NFL Players Association and independent standards.
Among the tools the league uses to make sure a field is up to code is the “Clegg” test, which measures a field’s firmness. NFL fields have to be at or below 100g (units of gravity) to pass. According to a source, the natural grass at UNLV measures around 50g, whereas the 49ers have a preference around 70g.
The 49ers have three options as it stands Monday ahead of their walkthrough. They can a) go about their business and practice on the field as scheduled; b) bring in new, firmer sod that would, in theory, be ready for practice this week; or c) negotiate with the NFL to practice at the Las Vegas Raiders practice facility where the Chiefs are located this week.
Roger Goodell Declares San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl Practice Fields At UNLV Playable After Investigation
Each year at the Super Bowl the NFL designates one team as the home team and the other as the away team. That alternates each year, and this year the AFC champion is considered the home team. Usually that means the home team gets to practice at the local NFL team’s facilities while the away team practices at the best college facilities nearby.
Last year, the Chiefs were the away team and practiced at Arizona State, while the Eagles were at the Cardinals’ facilities.
While the Raiders’ new complex has both artificial and natural grass fields, UNLV’s Fertitta Football Complex only has artificial turf. Though the NFL, through joint studies with the NFL Players Association, show little difference between injury rates on natural grass and artificial surfaces, players regularly complain about how their bodies feel after practicing or playing on artificial surfaces.
In a press conference on Monday afternoon, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he sent experts out to UNLV and declared the fields “playable” despite complaints from the San Francisco 49ers.
As of now, it’s unclear if the 49ers felt any better about the fields after their walkthrough this afternoon, but if not, it will be curious to see if they attempt to take further action.
This seems like an unnecessary distraction for any NFL team practicing for the Super Bowl, but it’s hard to see if the team is exaggerating or if the issues are severe.