- Ian Begley, ESPN New York Writer
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NEW YORK -- The goal posts for Saturday's Army-Notre Dame game at Yankee Stadium went up about 10 days after the end of the baseball season. Sod was laid over the infield two weeks ago. Yard lines were painted last week.
But preparation for the first college football game at Yankee Stadium, old or new, in nearly 25 years started in earnest in the early 2000s. Back then, the New York Yankees designed the new stadium with college football in mind, says Yankees COO Lonn Trost.
The Yankees wanted to host events in the offseason, so they made the stadium winter friendly, with features -- such as thermostat-controlled piping -- that would function in cold temperatures. Trost said the Yankees stopped hosting college football games at the old Stadium in part due to the challenges of running the building in the winter. The last game of the more than 175 college football games played at the old Yankee Stadium was Grambling vs. Central State in 1987.
"The plans and design of the stadium took that into consideration. As we went forward and we built the stadium, we always had [college football] in mind," Trost said.
Saturday's Army-Notre Dame game will be the first of two college football games at Yankee Stadium during the offseason. The Yankees will host the New Era Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 30.
The conversion of the field from baseball to football for Saturday's game started during the All-Star break, when workers from Delhi, N.Y.-based Sportsfield Specialties, a company that manufactures and sells equipment for sports construction projects, inserted sleeves encased in concrete underground in front of the center field warning track.
The sleeves support the goal posts and 40-foot by 40-foot netting system behind the goal posts, according to Sean Clark, Sportsfield's Northeast Regional sales manager.
The process then continued three days after the Yankees lost to the Texas Rangers in the ALCS, as workers from Sportsfield Specialties inserted the concrete sleeves for the opposite goal posts and netting behind home plate.
The goal posts were raised the following week and the pitcher's mound and infield skin -- or dirt area -- was removed to create an even playing field. Yankee Stadium grounds crew then laid unrooted sod over the infield -- the same Kentucky Bluegrass sod that's in the outfield -- to give the football field an authentic look, rather than having players play on the infield clay.
The 35,000 square feet of sod, imported from the DeLea Sod Farm in New Jersey, also covers the portions of the warning track behind the end zones.
After the sod was laid, members of the Yankees grounds crew helped paint yardage markers on the field.
The biggest challenge, trying to fit a 120-yard football field into the stadium playing surface, wasn't much of a hurdle for the Yankees. The width of the end zone fits snugly from the center field wall and there appears to be plenty of room behind the end zone near home plate.
The Yankees didn't have the same spacing issues that plagued Wrigley Field, which will host Illinois-Northwestern on Saturday. The back line of one end zone at Wrigley is dangerously close to the outfield wall.
"From center field to home plate, the field fits perfectly," Trost said.
Everything seems to be set for the 7 p.m. kickoff on Saturday. Capacity will be close to 51,000. This is slightly more than it would be for a baseball game, because of temporary bleachers in the right and left corners of the outfield.
Trost is pleased with the conversion process and is proud of the return of college football to the stadium. He said the Yankees are "wide open" to the idea of hosting other non-baseball events. The stadium has been mentioned as a possible site for the NHL's Winter Classic. Trost says the Yankees have also considered hosting lacrosse, soccer, another prize fight or even an X-Games event.
"This is a great venue and it's not just for baseball." Trost said.
But first, he'd like the fans to enjoy the return of college football to the stadium.
Said Trost: "From soup to nuts, this is going to be a top-flight experience."
Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.
Designed with football in mind, Yankee Stadium is ready to host Army vs. Notre Dame.