By Zachary Flynn

Photo by Railene Hooper

There is a new head of the Athletics Department at NAIT after the Athletics Director position was abolished for budgetary reasons.

Jordan Richey is now the head of the department, moving into the role that John Bower previously filled.

Budget Cuts

Richey said that while there are budget cuts, they won’t be drastic and should not affect NAIT students and student-athletes in a major way.

“Within athletics, it’s mostly cost correction,” said Richey. “All the cuts or changes that have been made are strictly to align with what other members of the ACAC are doing at the top-end.”

For example, the department has reduced the number of athletic therapists from three to two. Compared to other schools that have one or no therapists on staff, the Ooks are still at the top of the division when it comes to areas like coaching salaries, athletic trainers and therapists as well as other services for student-athletes.

Coaching salaries are also set to take a hit in the coming years. Richey said that those salary reductions will be slowly phased in over the course of the next two years. He also said that while salaries will be reduced, coaches will still be paid well.

“We are the leaders right now in the ACAC. We want to stay the leaders, we don’t have to be way above the leaders,” said Richey.

With NAIT operating at a financial deficit for the last few years, the institution is forced to make financial changes. For Richey, it’s not so much about cutting areas of NAIT Athletics, it’s more about tracking spending and finding ways to save money.

“To the outside world, they’re like ‘oh NAIT’s cutting…’ Well, we are. But when the institute’s is losing money, which it has been, and it’s common knowledge there…” said Richey. “Some areas are getting cut… just, cut. We at least have a plan with our reductions or our cuts and it’s cost correction to be at the top end of the ACAC.”

While budget cuts may be the topic of the day, Richey and his leadership team of coaches and athletics staff have three main focusses going into the next school year.

“Scholarships, bums in seats, and a more cohesive unit”

Richey’s main goal as the new head of NAIT Athletics is to bring everybody together.

“One of my strengths is team building and I think we’ve gotten away from that a little bit which is funny because these coaches – that’s what they do with their own programs… But as far as getting us as a cohesive unit in Athletics, we’ve kind of been in a ‘silo mentality,’” said Richey.

With a leadership team that brings coaches from all of NAIT’s varsity sports, new jerseys that will bring a consistent united look to the Ooks, and reinforcing the “Ooks supporting Ooks” mentality, Richey hopes that the new look and feel will have a positive effect on both the Ooks and their supporters.

“That’s my biggest goal – to get us all part of one cohesive unit and to integrate us in campus life as much as possible,” said Richey. “I think that should have a ripple-down effect to the student-athletes. If they see a tighter-knit group, it’ll be a better, more enjoyable and rewarding experience for the student-athletes.”

Another big focus for Richey is finding ways to get NAIT students to games.

“Student-athlete feedback was they all want more people at their games, more fans at their games and we hear that – they’re our stakeholders, the student-athletes…” said Richey.

He said he is looking for ways for the Ooks to work with NAITSA, the Nest and others to find ways to get more students to the games. He is also suggesting to the ACAC (Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference) that they have earlier start times for games rather than the current 6:00 P.M. and 8:00 P.M. start times in the gym and 7:00 P.M. start time in the rink.

“In a city like Edmonton, we’re competing against the Oilers, the Oil Kings… There are so many things we’re competing against,” said Richey.

He hopes that with earlier start times for games, it will encourage students to stay after class and catch a game or two.

“So at least we can get those students who want to stick around for a beer here afterwards and then watch a game and they can still be home by 6 o’clock.”

Richey is also looking to work on providing more student-athletes with scholarship money.

“A lot of these students athletes, they can’t work. They can’t have separate jobs because they’re training and playing on weekends so they need that financial support.”

Scholarship money for student-athletes also provides an incentive for an athlete to play for the Ooks rather than go to a different school.

“Other institutions have caught up and surpassed us now, so they’re offering more scholarship dollars so that’s one of the priorities the leadership team has put forward,” said Richey.

Creating a following

Richey hopes that as time goes on, NAIT students will become more engaged, attend more Ooks games and build more of a community and following around NAIT’s varsity teams.

Richey has worked at NAIT for over a decade. He’s spent his time in a number of positions within NAIT Athletics and is looking forward to his time as head of the department. He says that his time with NAIT and all of the experience he has in the department have him prepared for the new role.

“This has kind of been my dream job since I started coaching here 18 years ago. I always thought my ambition was to be an athletic director. It was not the way I envisioned taking it when there was an abolishment of the position but I’m here nonetheless and I look forward to doing good things for the department and the student-athletes and the staff and everybody involved with athletics,” said Richey.