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NFL: Lockout Won't Freeze Funding for Schools' Stadium Projects

Professional football may currently be on hold, but the NFL still plans on distributing grants to help pay for new and resurfaced youth-football fields, despite reports to the contrary.

The NFL Grassroots Field Grant Program, established in 1998, provides up to $200,000 worth of matching grants to nonprofit, community-based organizations, middle schools, and high schools looking to improve the conditions of their football fields. Applicants can request up to $50,000 for "general field support" (projects not related to the field surface, such as the installation/refurbishment of lights, bleachers, or concession stands), or up to $200,000 for the resurfacing of a football field.

Dan Donovan, head of finances for the New Hampshire-based Nashua school district, told the district's board of education this week that the NFL wouldn't be distributing any new field grants until the resolution of the league's ongoing lockout, according to the Nashua Telegraph. The district was hoping for a $200,000 matching grant from the NFL to help subsidize the cost of the installation of new turf at its football stadium, which could end up around $700,000 total.

The Nashua stadium, which opened in 2001, only had an eight-year warranty on its now 10-year-old turf. Donovan told the board of ed that the turf has soft spots that wouldn't currently pass safety tests.

According to Stacy Hynes, the district's director of grants, the district submitted its application for the grant by the Dec.15, 2010, deadline and was originally told that a decision would be made by February, one way or the other. District officials have yet to hear a final decision from the NFL. (The NFL Grassroots Program's website doesn't specify a date by which winners of the grants would be decided or notified.)

Yesterday, however, officials from the NFL said the lockout will have no bearing on the status of the NFL Grassroots Program's future grants.

"I'm not sure why they would say this has anything to do with the work stoppage," Alexia Gallagher, director of NFL's director of youth football, said Wednesday, to the Telegraph. "We have not altered our giving strategy at all."

Gallagher said the grant awards should be announced somewhere in the middle of June. Roughly 100 schools and organizations applied for the grants, with a total of about $2.5 million up for grabs.

"It's a very stringent review process. We really need to conduct our due diligence with the number of applications," she told the Telegraph. "It's a thorough review. We conduct site visits, really making sure these projects are viable and have community support."

So, that settles it, right? Well, not exactly.

After hearing the NFL's response, Hynes isn't stepping down from what she said. She told the Telegraph that the Local Initiative Support Corporation, a Boston-based organization that partners with the NFL Youth Football Fund to handle the grants, told her the grants would take longer this year because of the NFL lockout. Hynes also provided the paper with a timeline that the district received as a part of its application, which said decisions would be made by February and distribution of the funding would occur in May.

With many schools across the U.S. already dealing with crunched budgets, the reported delay from the NFL's Grassroots Program will be yet another headache in a year that's already been full of them.

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